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  • Greg O'Loughlin

Patrick Pearse Revolutionary Educationalist

Continuing his series on a recent trip to Ireland. Greg O’Loughlin discovers a lesser-known side to the 1916 revolutionary leader Patrick Pearse.

One of our scheduled stops in an otherwise agenda-less holiday was a visit to Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh - The Pearse Cultural Center.

We had heard that a new visitor’s center was built in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of 1916 and had wonderful experiences at other OPW sites on previous trips, so we added it to the schedule.

The majority of the agenda for the trip included reading, exploring tide pools, and long walks, so a day trip was a fun way to add some adventure.

On a quick call ahead to confirm the center was open (calling everywhere first on this trip was essential as regulations and guidelines were ever-changing), I spoke with a kind woman whose greeting reminded me that we were in the heart of an active and vibrant gaeltacht. I sheepishly apologized for the ways in which DuoLingo had not prepared me for such an interaction, and a similarly warm transition to English assured us that they were open and eager to welcome everyone to the site.

I went into the experience with some assumptions as to what we’d expect - likely some revolution memorabilia, a tour guide with a script, and a cottage standing in as the human-scaled connection to an otherwise broad history. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some personal background, I’m a teacher and am really nerdy about teaching. I love learning about effective teaching and learning strategies as well as the philosophies and foundations of effective teaching practices (often known as pedagogy). There’s a good chance that at some point, I had read about Pearse’s experience as a teacher, though it wouldn’t have been the first thing I would reply if asked what I knew about Padraic Pearse.

Most of the information that made an impact to this point were stories and experiences that would make the headlines - eulogies, declarations, and battles. Essential information to be sure, but also incomplete.

Our experience at the Cultural Center changed the way I think about the man and his work and did so in a way that is rooted in his pedagogy and philosophy of the role of education in revolution and change.

At the core of his teaching philosophy was centering the child’s learning. This may sound obvious now, but at the time, Pearse’s efforts to personalize education, create real-life learning experiences, incorporate technology in the classroom, and nurture student voice was cutting-edge. A contemporary of John Dewey and Maria Montessori (other influential pedagogy pioneers), Pearse was first and foremost a teacher who saw education as a chief means of developing identity. His work with the Gaelic League and later his decision to found a school were essential elements of his path towards leading a revolution to declare independence. It was a through-line that I had simply not examined before.

I had been slightly worried that a stuffy museum experience would zap the fun out of the day for the younger two in our party. The hands-on, interactive nature of the space did just the opposite. We learned from interactive maps, slide projectors, illuminated art, videos, and more.

From the Cultural Center, we walked up the path to Pearse’s cottage, a summer retreat where he would write, host students from St. Enda to practice their Irish with locals, and spend his summers. We met a guide there who was an endless source of knowledge about the surrounding community, the history, the cottage, and the man himself. He was as eager to share information as we were to ask and learn, and he did so with us as béarla, and with the other parties as gaeilge.

The experience of walking around the rooms, the garden, the lake, trees, rocks, and paths where Padraic walked, found solace, wrote, and dreamed was extraordinary. It also allowed each of us to learn through a personal experience. My wife loved pausing in front of the hearth and hob, while my daughters loved comparing the views from each window in the space. We explored every nook and cranny of the space as well as on the surrounding trails and lakeshore.

The Cultural Center taught us about the life and story of Padraic Pearse in the same way that he taught his students - learning happened through experience, exploration, and technology. We all walked away with personalized lessons and understanding, made possible by centering us - the students of history. It was as informative as it was beautiful and an experience that will shape my continued research and life as a teacher.

The more complete story of Pearse’s life and his transformation from educator to revolutionary holds lessons that not only humanize the textbook tales of nation building, but are also relevant to many questions with which are relevant today. Next week, I’ll share highlights of a walk on the other side of the country - an historical walking tour that collapsed vast distances of time with storytelling and immersion.

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