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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Topham/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images Pádraig Pearse in an Irish Volunteer officer uniform addressing a recruitment meeting in July 1915.
Padraig Pearse

"But the fools, the fools, the fools!" - Pearse funeral oration re-enacted at Glasnevin

Pádraig Pearse speech at O’Donovan Rossa’s graveside ended: “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

PÁDRAIG PEARSE’S famous address at the graveside of Fenian and prominent Irish Republican Brotherhood member O’Donovan Rossa is being recreated at Glasnevin Cemetery throughout August.

The cemetery is the final resting place of dozens of famous and influential Irish figures including O’Donovan Rossa, Daniel O’Connell, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Maud Gonne McBride, and Charles Stewart Parnell.

At 2.30pm every day this month, an actor will deliver Pearse’s rousing oration.

The address ends with the lines:

The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, 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, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.

However, the 1 August 1915 speech very nearly wasn’t made, according to author and resident historian at Glasnevin Museum Shane MacThomáis.

“After the funeral mass, said by Father O’Flanagan, there was to be one graveside speaker only,” MacThomáis explains. “The somewhat unknown Pádraig Pearse had been Tom Clarke’s choice to give the oration. Many on the committee had disputed this but Clarke knew his man and insisted that he was the one.”

“Pearse spent days and nights in his Connemara cottage writing and re-writing the speech until he felt it was ready. Having shown the speech to no one, Pearse, in the uniform of an Irish Volunteer officer, took the note from his pocket, stood at the end of the grave, and gave what was to become one of the most famous funeral orations in history.”

“Pearse’s finely crafted words not only caught the zeitgeist but were to resonate for generations to come,” the historian says. “As the old Fenian was laid to rest in the country of his birth, a country he had spent his life fighting for, a new dawn had risen for a generation as they passed out through Glasnevin Cemetery’s gates.”

Pearse himself was dead within a year of making the oration, executed in May 1916 for his role in the Easter Rising.

The month-long Pearse/O’Donovan Rossa event marks the start of Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum’s new series of speeches and re-enactments celebrating Irish patriots including Collins, Parnell and O’Connell. The museum also regularly provides a range of guided tours and talks, and its website has a virtual map of graves.

Read’s series: My favourite speech >

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