UNITED IN ARMS, DIVIDED IN DREAMS:
James Connolly, Patrick Pearse and Easter 1916
EXECUTED AS leaders of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, James Connolly and
Patrick Pearse became nationalist icons as the country moved from
British colony to independent, if divided, nation. Following their
deaths, the two mens’ respective beliefs became blurred into a
nationalist myth, coloured by the idea of blood sacrifice and moulded
to serve the needs of republican politicians and paramilitaries for
generations to come. The reality behind the myth however was that
Connolly and Pearse held sharply contrasting ideas about the nation’s
past and present, and each had a particular vision for its future.
two men with so little in common could come to be seen as sharing a
goal resulted from circumstances beyond their control in the years 1913
to 1916, before when even the most imaginative chronicler of Irish
history would struggle to find an inch of common ground between them.
It was from 1913 that the paths of Connolly, the socialist union
official, and Pearse, the non-political founder of an Irish-language
school and prominent member of the Gaelic League, began to converge, a
process resulting from the industrial unrest of the Dublin lock-out and
the Home Rule crisis that saw physical force become a major component
of Irish political life.
was prominent in the lock-out, its failure and the failure of British
labour to back it, being the first of a series of disillusionments that
would cause him to rethink his strategy for attaining socialism and
turn towards separatist republicans for support. For Pearse the
lock-out brought an awareness of social problems and injustices that
his romantic vision of Ireland and the Irish had hitherto overlooked
but his conversion from language campaigner to orator for armed
struggle came about about not through a desire to end the inequities of
capitalism but as a means to repel the root cause of all Ireland’s
woes, the English, even if it meant following the route of earlier
Irish nationalists and dying a glorious death in the process.
the armed militias that originated in the lock-out and the Home Rule
crisis in place, the outbreak of the first world war created a
situation in which insurrection appeared possible and which, for
Connolly, Pearse and a small band of others, seemed essential. To this
end, Connolly and Pearse were inseparably aligned but their ultimate
aims remained quite different: the former never wavered from a desire
for Irish socialism perceived as now attainable by ridding Ireland of
English rule and, in time, English capital. By contrast, Pearse’s
vision was for cultural not economic transformation, the removal of the
English allowing an unleashed Gaelic culture to bring about a
self-sufficient, self-governing Irish nation.
Catholic Church that helped turn their deaths into martyrdom, the
politicians that seized their legacies and the post-Rising nationalist
historiography that quoted selectively from their writings and
speeches, buried the socialism of Connolly beneath his nationalism and
depicted Pearse less as a one-time politically neutral language
campaigner than a lifelong revolutionary, while nurturing the idea of
the two men having a common goal for Ireland’s future.
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this fully referenced essay-length study, Mick Sinclair explores the
circumstances by which James Connolly and Patrick Pearse found unlikely
common ground in the years leading to Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising.
other study among an immense historiography has examined the extent to
which Connolly and Pearse really did share ideals as the Rising
approached, or explored how the particular circumstances of Ireland
from 1913 to 1916 caused them to be travelling the same road, even as
their sights remained fixed on very different destinations.