The Harp Without the Crown – Margaret Pearse


“Don’t sympathize with me over the loss of my sons…congratulate me… I am the proudest woman in Ireland… It is a grand thing to know that I have had the privilege of being the mother of two young men who died battling for our dear old land.” Quotation from Margaret Pearse at an address at St Mary’s Hall in Butte, Montana on July 22, 1924.

Hello this is John Conlan, host of the Rocky Road to Dublin here on KBMF and welcome to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown, where I will be discussing the week long visit of Margaret Pearse, Irish Sein Fein politician, school administrator, and mother of executed Irish patriot Padraig Pearse, in July 1924.

Margaret Pearse’s visit to Butte was directly tied to her son Padraig Pearse, who was executed by the British army for his role in the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising. Padraig is considered to be the central figure of the Easter Rising and was founder of St.Enda’s Secondary Boys School, located outside of Dublin. In Ireland and Irish America, widows and mothers of executed Irish citizens became powerful symbolic leaders. Margaret Pearse was no exception and she felt that the best way to honor her son’s memory was to carry on his work for Ireland.

After her son’s death, Margaret Pearse became politically active and was a member of Sein Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which opposed the Irish Free State Treaty, like many Irish activists previously featured in this series. However, her American visit was non-political in nature, focusing on raising funds for St. Enda’s Secondary School. She assumed management of the school after her son’s death at the hands of the British government. Padraig died without a will and unfortunately left the successful school in financial trouble. Margaret summed up her task of taking responsibility for the school by stating “it is a tradition with us that when our men folk are wrested from us the women step in to fill the gap and carry on.” She noted while in Brooklyn, New York “that she was the proudest mother in Eire.”

Margaret arrived in America in 1924 to ask for further financial support for St. Enda’s Secondary School and to thank Americans for their financial generosity and moral support of Ireland. The school was influenced by Maria Montessori and adhered to the Irish Gaelic League commitment to the preservation of Irish language and culture.The school emphasized the study of science, nature, arts, drama, and Gaelic traditional sports. Most importantly the school curriculum was based on Brehon Law, ancient Celtic law dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries that stressed truth, honor, and obedience through love not fear. The underlying philosophy of the school was to have an “Irish standpoint and atmosphere.”

Margaret Pearse was accompanied by traveling companion Ms. A.W. Smith of New York and spent a week in Butte and Anaconda, at the end of July,1924. Father Michael Hannan of Butte’s St. Mary’s Church provided financial and logistical support for her trip. The Butte Miner described her as ”silver haired, pink cheeked, and earnest.” During her public speaking events and banquets held in Butte she focused on the importance of promoting Gaelic education that was found at St. Edna’s Secondary School.

At an event sponsored by the Phil Sheridan Club at the Anaconda AOH Hall, Margaret addressed educational issues and St Enda’s accomplishments. She also gave a detailed account of the events of the Dublin 1916 Easter Rising and the deaths of her two sons. It must have been painful to discuss the deaths of her two sons in public and Montanans were moved by her description of the Dublin events. Dublin’s Pearse Museum literature notes that “on occasions she was found wandering the streets calling out for Pat and Willie, Willie and Pat.” British troops and Irish police added to her trauma and grief by continually raiding her home after her son’s deaths.

Most of her trip was spent in Butte and a memorable event happened when Margaret was the main speaker at a July 27th picnic at Columbia Gardens, where 7,000 were expected to attend the day’s events. In addition to her address, entitled ”Education in Ireland,” the festive day featured monetary prizes for music and dance contests, track and field events, and a Gaelic Football game between the Emeralds of Anaconda and Sarsfields of Butte. The Butte Sarsfields won and took home $50 for their victory. During her address at the Columbia Gardens Margaret Pearse emphasized that a contribution to St. Endas made Ireland “not merely free but Gaelic as well, not merely Gaelic, but free as well. Father Hannan was able to raise at least $300 for St Endas from his St.Mary’s parishioners. It was reported that she raised $10,000 for the school while in America. Unfortunately, the school was continually plagued by financial issues and eventually closed in 1935.

As with others featured here on the Harp without the Crown, Margaret Pearse did use her Montana visit to speak harshly of the recently passed Irish Free State Treaty as a “half measure treaty.” Most progressive Irish activists such as Margaret Pearse, viewed the Treaty with scorn because it only granted Ireland some autonomy and not complete independence from England. Although Irish education was her focus, she found time to drive home the point that Irish independence was not supported by the Treaty. Butte audiences were receptive to her call for Irish independence, which came twenty five years later.

Margaret Pearse considered her American visit to places like Butte and Anaconda memorable and successful because she solidified ties with Irish America. Most importantly she educated the Butte Irish about St Endas and raised significant funds for the School. She was one of many Irish activists and politicians who felt Butte was an important place to gain support for Ireland. Her son Padraig, lamented before his execution that although he brought his mother sorrow, he hoped he had left her with the “memory of my deed and of my name.” St. Enda’s Park on the Pearse Museum grounds in Dublin preserves the memory and educational vision of Padraig and Margaret Pearse and is open for the public to visit.

This has been John Conlan and thanks for listening to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown