Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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From 'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageby Turtle Bunbury (MPG, 2008).

During the 1850s, there was a terrific revival in church building across Ireland by the Catholic Church. In the 1860s, English stone-mason James Pearse moved to Dublin from Birmingham to work on Pugin’s marvellous new Church of SS Augustine and John on Thomas Street. In 1870, James set up his monumental sculpture works at 27 Great Brunswick Street, subsequently named Pearse Street after his two sons. Somewhat ironically, the late Georgian house stood just two doors up from the British Army Recruiting Office.

In 1877, James Pearse married Margaret Brady, mother of his two sons Padraig (1879-1916) and Willie (1881-1916). The bothers were born in No 27 and educated locally in Wentworth Place (now Hogan Place) and at the Christian Brothers School on Westland Row. The pensive Padraig was an early adherent to the Gaelic League and, at the age of 23, became editor of the League’s newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis (‘The Sword of Light’). In 1908 he set up Scoil Éanna (St Enda’s School) in Ranelagh, where pupils were taught in both Irish and English. In 1910, the school was relocated to Hermitage in Rathfarnham.

When James Pearse died in 1900, Willie took over the Great Brunswick Street studio, subsequently known as ‘Pearse & Sons’. At its peak, this was the largest monumental sculpture firm in Ireland, employing up to 86 workers. The firm produced many altarpieces, monuments and ornamental features of considerable beauty. Willie himself studied sculpture at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin under Oliver Sheppard. Among his best-known works is the rather prophetic ‘Mater Dolorosa’ at St Andrew’s Church in Westland Row. He was also employed as deputy headmaster to his brother at Scoil Éanna, looking after art, drawing and theatre.

By 1913 the fervently Catholic Padraig was one of the key players in the Irish Volunteers. In December 1914, Padraig was sworn into the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood and co-opted onto the Supreme Council. He was among those who planned the 1916 Easter Rising. The Brothers Pearse were among those who led the Irish Volunteers into the General Post Office. From its steps, 36-year-old Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of Independence. Six days later, Padraig issued the order to surrender. Padraig was executed by firing squad at Arbour Hill Barracks on the morning of 3rd May 1916 Willie was executed exactly 24 hours later.

In 1996, No 27 was close to collapse when it was acquired by the Ireland Institute, a body designed to promote the international ideals of republicanism, but with no links to political parties. The artist Robert Ballagh is its president. The building was sensitively restored and, in 2000, it discreetly reopened as the Ireland Institute’s official headquarters. In 2008, a space to the rear of No 27 was converted into the 75-seat Pearse Centre. This is designed for theatre, lectures and political debate and hosted the Desmond Greaves Summer School in 2008.

Lord, thou art hard on mothers;

We suffer in their coming and their going;

And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary

Of the long sorrow - And yet I have my joy;

My sons were faithful, and they fought.

From ‘Mother’, written by Padraig Pearse to his mother the day before his execution.



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