Margaret Mary Pearse
Educator, politician, Irish language activist
Margaret Pearse was the older sister of Irish patriots Patrick and Willie. She was an educator, politician and Irish language activist.
Margaret was born on 4 August 1878 at 27 Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), Dublin. She and Patrick were enrolled at a private school at 28 Wentworth Place, Dublin in 1886/7 and in 1891, she attended the Sisters of the Holy Faith School, Clarendon Street. She excelled at school, receiving first place in all subjects and, like all her siblings, she loved reading and recitation. After completing her studies, Margaret studied Domestic Economy at the Rathmines Technical Institute (College of Commerce) and received a certificate of competency from the Leinster College of Irish.
In 1905 Margaret accompanied Patrick on a trip to Belgium to observe methods of teaching languages and approaches to bilingualism. This encouraged Margaret to establish a small preparatory school for girls and boys at their home in Leeson Park, Donnybrook in 1907. Her school was a success and it became the preparatory school of what would later become one of the most radical educational projects in Irish history, namely, Scoil Éanna/St. Enda’s, Ranelagh and later Rathfarnham. She was assistant mistress, taught French and religion, and ran the school until its closure in 1935.
Although Margaret took no part in the 1916 Rising, she was aware of ammunitions made and stored at St. Enda’s School in the lead up to Easter 1916. She described the Rising as 'tragic but glorious' and opined that despite the great loss experienced by her and her family, they took comfort in the fact that Patrick and Willie would spend eternity together.
From 1916 until her death, Margaret attended State and public ceremonies in honour of her brothers. From 1933 to 1937, she served as a Fianna Fáil TD for County Dublin and, in 1938 was elected to Seanad Éireann where she served for three decades. Margaret rarely spoke in the Dáil or Seanad. In contrast, she was more outspoken on contemporary political, social and cultural issues in her public addresses. Her politics were simple and transparent; she believed in a 32 county republic with Irish as its first language. She regarded partition as “the greatest evil at present in this country”. Outside politics and cultural activism, Margaret spent much of her time responding to queries relating to Patrick’s literary works, requests to visit St. Enda's and posting photographs, books and other memorabilia of her brothers. She was elected honorary life President of the Holy Faith Past Pupils’ Union and was a devout Catholic.
From the 1960s onwards, Margaret spent extended periods at the Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock and was regularly visited by political and public figures. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the official Fiftieth Anniversary Commemoration of the Rising, but was brought on a stretcher to Dublin Castle to receive her honorary Doctorate of Laws. Margaret died on 7 November, 1968 and received a State funeral.
Many thanks to Teresa and Mary Louise O’Donnell for this herstory. Their book Sisters of the Revolutionaries: The Story of Margaret and Mary Brigid Pearse is available at Irish Academic Press.