MARY BRIGID PEARSE
Musician, teacher, actress, author
Mary Bridget (later changed to Mary Brigid) was born in Dublin on 26th April, 1884 and was the youngest of four children born to James and Margaret Pearse; her siblings were Margaret, Patrick and Willie. She was a musician, teacher, actress and author of short stories, children’s stories, and plays.
From an early age, she showed considerable aptitude for music, particularly the piano. Through her membership of the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), she met Owen Lloyd who became her harp teacher. Under Lloyd’s guidance, Mary Brigid progressed quickly on the Irish and concert harps and performed at concerts of An t-Oireachtas with Lloyd's band of harps. She also won several prizes at harp competitions organised by An t-Oireachtas and performed regularly at branch meetings of the Gaelic League in Dublin. In 1910, Mary Brigid succeeded Owen Lloyd as harp teacher at St Enda’s (Scoil Éanna) in Rathfarnham, the bilingual school founded by her brother Patrick. She also provided piano and voice lessons as part of the extra-curricular activities offered at the school.
Between 1910 and 1912, her literary works, which comprised largely of one-act plays or adaptations of novellas by Charles Dickens, were performed by the Leinster Stage Society at the Abbey Theatre. After the execution of her brothers Patrick and Willie in 1916, Mary Brigid chose to remain out of public and political life. As her mother and sister were increasingly burdened with the legacy of Patrick and Willie, she focused on teaching music and writing at her home in Dublin. Her first novel, The Murphys of Ballystack, was published in 1917. Although the book was well received, this literary success was short-lived and she struggled to have her work published in the following decades.
During the 1920s and early 1930s Mary Brigid spent much of her time writing short stories, plays, children’s stories and articles. She wrote over twenty short stories and commenced two other novels, Curly and the Persian and The Romance of Castle Bawn. Her best-known literary work is The Home-Life of Pádraig Pearse, published in 1934. The book is essentially a collation of a series of articles which she contributed to the Christian Brothers’ magazine, Our Boys, in 1926 to mark the tenth anniversary of the 1916 Rising. The publication of the book should have been a personal and professional triumph for Mary Brigid, but it coincided with a particularly turbulent period in her life which was marked by the death of her mother in 1932 and a bitter dispute with her sister Margaret over the terms of their mother’s will and Margaret’s appointment as executrix.
Mary Brigid continued to write and teach harp, piano, cello and mandolin throughout the 1930s and 1940s and participated in several broadcasts about her brother Patrick. She suffered from high blood pressure and neurosis and died, aged sixty-three, on 12 November 1947. The Home-Life was later republished in 1979 to mark the centenary of Patrick Pearse’s birth, but to date her other literary works have not been published.
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.