Academic journal article Thymos

Patrick Pearse, Boyish Spirituality and Irish National Identity

Academic journal article Thymos

Patrick Pearse, Boyish Spirituality and Irish National Identity

Article excerpt

This article explores the construction of boyhood in short fiction written by Patrick Pearse, the Irish nationalist and political activist executed for his leading role in the abortive Easter Rising of 1916. Pearse's focus on the spiritual dimension of boyhood in his first collection of Irish-language stories, Íosagán agus Sgéalta Eile [Iosagan and Other Stories] (1907), simultaneously undermines and endorses imperialist and patriarchal assumptions about gender differentiation. In later stories published in An Mháthair agus sgéalta eile [The Mother and Other Stories] (1916), Pearse moved from advocacy of boyish spirituality to a more physical and militant representation of boyhood. This changing representation of Irish boyhood illustrates how Pearse's increasing militarism reflected his ongoing construction of national identity.

Keywords: boyhood, spirituality, motherhood, uranism

Patrick Henry Pearse (1879-1916), described by Seamus Deane (1985) as the Irish Revival's "most famous minor writer and its major revolutionary figure" (p. 63), is chiefly remembered as a political activist who was executed for his leading role in the abortive Easter Rising that took place in Dublin, in 1916.In the years between the foundation of the Irish state in 1922 and the outbreak of the Northern Troubles in the late 1960s, Pearse was generally regarded as a national icon. The publication, in 1977, of Ruth Dudley Edwards' influential biography, Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure, offered a re-evaluation of Pearse, his achievements and his legacy. Edwards' biography was reissued in 2006, and these issues continue to spark heated critical and popular debate in the twenty-first century. Critics including Quinn (2001), Sisson (2004), and Walsh (2007) have paid considerable attention to Pearse's approach to boyhood in terms of his educational philosophy and practice. On a popular level, attention has focused more on the significance of the influential, but perhaps misguided, insurrection of 1916 and Pearse's personal legacy to modern Ireland. Numerous correspondents, with various opposing viewpoints on these related issues, contributed to an impassioned discussion that unfurled on the letters pages of the Irish Times in 2000 and again in 2006. RTE, the Irish national broadcaster, played a part in the re-evaluation of Pearse, screening the Mint Productions/RTE documentary True Lives: Pearse-Fanatic Heart, in 2001 , and airing a recorded radio debate in 2005, in which two historians, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Martin Mansergh, disputed Pearse's achievements and legacy.

What remains indisputable is a lingering fascination with Pearse, a charismatic but conflicted man whose vision of Ireland as a suffering mother increasingly inspired both his literary endeavors and political activism. Pearse's own childhood experiences helped shape this powerful vision, which is refracted in a number of short stories that focus on childhood, particularly boyhood. His first collection of stories, Iosagan agus Sgéalta Eile [Iosagan and Other Stories] was published in 1907, and the second collection, An Mháthair agus sgéalta eile [The Mother and Other Stories] was published in 1916, just months before the Easter Rising and Pearse's execution. The ten stories contained in the collections were translated into English by the poet Joseph Campbell, first appearing in the Collected Works of Padraic H. Pearse, in the volume entitled Plays, Stories, Poems, published in 1917. Pearse intended these stories to contribute to the foundation of a modern literature in the Irish language, to foster the development of a distinctive Irish identity at the beginning of the twentieth century, and to exemplify the moral values to which he believed the nascent Irish nation should aspire. His early stories, which advocate the adoption of an Irish model of masculinity based on boyish spirituality, oppose imperial constructions of masculinity that endorsed muscular Christianity's commitment to physical action. …

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