Pearse’s Oration at the Graveside of O’Donovan Rossa
‘Found’ by Eleanor Dent, January 16 2008
We stand at Rossa’s grave not in sadness
that is has been given to us to come into thus so close
a communion with that brave and splendid soul.
Splendid and holy causes are served by men who are
themselves splendid and holy. O’Donovan Rossa
was splendid in the proud manhood of him,
splendid in the heroic grace of him,
splendid in the Gaelic strength
and clarity and truth of him. This is a place
of peace, sacred to the dead, where men should speak
with all charity and all restraint;
but I hold it a Christian thing, as O’Donovan Rossa
held it, to hate evil, to hate untruth,
to hate oppression, and, hating them,
to strive to overthrow them. The Defenders
of the Realm have worked well in secret
and in the open. They think that they
have provided against everything; but the fools,
the fools, the fools! They have left us
our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves
I reland unfree shall never be at peace.
Padraig Pearse, August 1, 1915
A workshop I belonged to set members the task of writing a ‘found poem.’ I had never heard of this before. To be honest, I thought it a bit of a cheek for people to take existing prose and chop it up to make something new. However, this was my effort.
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa (1831 – 1915) founded, in 1856, the Phoenix National and Literary Society ‘for the liberation of Ireland by force of arms.’ In 1858 the society held a public demonstration and O’Donovan Rossa was interned without trial on conspiracy charges for eight months. In 1865 he was accused of plotting a Fenian rising and sentenced to penal servitude for life. In 1869 he was elected to parliament for Tipperary but his election was declared void because he was imprisoned. He was released in 1871 and exiled to America where he died in 1915. His body was brought back to Ireland and given a hero’s burial, with Padraig Pearse giving his famous oration.
Padraig Pearse (1879 – 1916) became interested in the heritage and history of Ireland at an early age and joined the Gaelic League when he was 21. The purpose of the League was to promote the Irish language and culture. He was a pioneer of Irish writing and published poems, stories, articles and essays to further the identification of Ireland as a separate culture. When England entered the First World War Irish Nationalism was split between those who wanted to take advantage of England’s plight and those who wanted to assist England in the war in order to gain concessions when it was over. Pearse was a member of the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a militant group that believed in using force to remove the British from Ireland. Shortly before 1915 the IRB had plans for a full military revolution in Ireland. He was heavily involved in the planning of the 1916 Easter Rising which was the catalyst for the subsequent War of Independence, Civil War and eventual declaration of a Republic in 1949. The Rising failed and Pearse was executed on May 3, 1916, with fourteen other rebels.
The ‘found’ poem is an extract from Pearse’s Oration at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa, which many Irish men and women can recite by heart. It is a powerful piece of rhetoric, but the extracts I have chosen fall very easily into the form of a poem. I have neither added nor taken away a single word; nor is the punctuation mine. The whole oration can be found online (Google ‘Padraig (or Patrick) Pearse O’Donovan Rossa.’) I would also recommend English translations of his poems, if you speak no Irish. The most famous are ‘The Mother’ and ‘I Am Ireland,’ both of which are almost unbearably poignant.
My father spent his later years trying to learn his favourite pieces of poetry and prose by heart and I remember him reciting Pearse’s oration in the kitchen on many occasions.