A lost educationalist: P.H Pearse. An Introduction





Pictured above is St.Enda’s in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. It is a beautiful house and museum, with gardens, a café and playing pitches surrounding it. Growing up, we referred to it as Pearse Brother’s Park, as that is where Pearse and William among many other enligtened individuals set up a boys school in 1908. I remember peeking in the windows as a child, looking at the old furniture, fascinated. Click here for more info on visiting St.Enda’s.

There are plenty of good books, academic papers and websites devoted to P. H. Pearse and I would recommend you search them out for more detailed background information. My primary interest is the work of Pearse as an educationalist, specifically the influence of Montessori on his work.

Around the same time Pearse was setting up St. Enda’s, Dr. Maria Montessori was developing her method of education in Italy; Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy, so was already a pioneer of her time. She developed her methods in schools she opened in the Italian slums called ‘Casa dei Bambini’, the first of which opened on 6th January, 1907.

Not dissimilar to the overcrowded tenament buildings of Dublin at the time, children were often left to fend for themselves while parents worked long hours for little pay. Such was the success of the Montessori schools at the time, that educationalists and dignitaries alike would travel to see these revolutionary child centred schools.

I had a strange feeling that made me announce emphatically at the opening that here was a ‘grandiose’ undertaking of which the whole world would one day speak” Dr. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood.

Evidence that Pearse was aware of Montessori’s method of education can be found in his pamphlet (early version of a blog) on education entitled ‘The Murder Machine‘;

The Montessori system, so admirable in many ways, would seem at first sight to attach insufficient importance to the function of the teacher in the schoolroom. But this is not really so. True it would make spontaneous efforts of the children the main motive power, as against the dominating will of the teacher which is the main motive power in the ordinary schoolroom. But the teacher must be there always to inspire, to foster. If you would realise how true this is, how important the personality of the teacher, even in a Montessori school, try to imagine a Montessori school conducted by the average teacher of your acquaintance, or try to imagine a Montessori school conducted by yourself!” P.H Pearse, ‘Masters & Disciples’, The Murder Machine.

When comparing Pearse and Montessori’s schools an obvious difference that emerges  is that Montessori focused on disadvantaged children to develop her methodolgy, as opposed to Pearse, whose pupils came from affluent, Nationalist families. Both, though, realised the importance of education is the creation of well rounded, free-thinking members of society.

Sadly there are a lot of what ifs with regard to Pearse and his enlightened views on education due to his premature death by British firing squad in 1916, for his role in the Easter Rising. I hope though, to explore further the relationship between Pearse and Montessori in relation to education, and the impact of Pearse’s loss to the Irish education system. Interestingly enough, recently released documents from the 1950s show that the Catholic Church, which was the dominant educator in the state at the time, rejected Montessori as a form of education due to it’s dangerous tendency to produce free thinkers, a view which Pearse, I’m sure would have not shared.

I will be researhcing this interesting area further and welcome suggestions in the form of link’s etc to further connections, in particular, between Dr. Maria Montessori and P.H. Pearse.




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