From Church & State: Winter 2006

T. Ryle Dwyer On Patrick Pearse

"Would you buy a used car from this man?"—or, how some revisionists argue their cases

In his Irish Examiner column of Saturday 29th October 2005, Ryle Dwyer gives us an interesting illustration of the 'would-you-buy-a-used-car-from-this-man?' approach to certain parts of Irish history favoured by some revisionists. Introducing Patrick Pearse's poem Little Lad Of The Tricks, "in light of the events of this week…", Ryle went on to suggest we, the readers, would not allow its author to teach our children. He described Pearse as "the high priest of Irish republicanism". He then pondered—rhetorically—what subliminal message Bertie Ahern was trying to get across by keeping a framed photo of Pearse on his desk. I say 'rhetorically' because, as we will see, he had already provided his own answer in an almost equally subliminal form.

A few days later a letter appeared in the same Irish Examiner (5-11-2005) from one Patrick Walsh, saddened by Mr. Dwyer's denigrating inference that Patrick Pearse was a closet paedophile. Patrick suggested alternative interpretations of the poem in question. He added "since a poem is quoted, I presume that much of Ryle Dwyer's contentions are based on it". (See below for poem, letter, and some other commentary, ed.]

Ryle Dwyer was swift to reply (Irish Examiner 9-11-05). He denied Patrick Walsh's assertions and suggested that, as he had not actually used the word 'paedophile' in his article, Mr. Walsh must have based his assumptions solely on the poem itself, therefore proving his original contention that the poem revealed Pearse to be a paedophile! Instead, he claimed to simply place the poem in front of readers, "referring to it" in just a few sentences, and let them draw their own conclusions.

However, this is not true, and those 'few sentences' prove to be the key. Mr. Dwyer introduces the poem, as he himself points out, "in light of the events of this week". He tries to leave himself room to manoeuvre by not stating to which events he refers, but the biggest story at the time was the Ferns Diocesan Report on paedophilia among the clergy. Thus Ryle Dwyer is already implying he sees a link between this poem and paedophilia. The link is enhanced by the description of Pearse as "the high priest of Irish republicanism", while simultaneously tapping into the current zeitgeist, which popularly sees the Catholic Church as aloof, authoritarian and out-of-date. He then suggests we would not want the author of the poem teaching our children. Why not? Because Mr. Dwyer specifically wants us to perceive the author of the poem as a danger to children. What kind of danger could the author pose? Since the poem is presented in the wake of the Ferns Report, it is clearly intended to be some sort of predatory sexual danger. And then, of course, why this particular poem? Had he intended it to refer to An Taoiseach's decision to re-instate the Easter military parade, another of Pearse's poems, such as The Mother, would surely have been more relevant. Moreover, it is not the first time the poem has been used in this context, as Dwyer is almost certainly aware, and as Patrick Walsh pointed out. For example, back on July 24th Ireland On Sunday quoted Ruth Dudley Edwards' use of the same poem to make the same accusation of paedophilia.

Far from letting the readers draw their own conclusions, Mr. Dwyer sets the poem in a context where we are already being invited to see Pearse as a paedophile. As he concedes to Mr.Walsh, it's Mr. Dwyer's right to draw what inferences he wishes from the poem, but dishonest of him to pretend he isn't doing so. It's the rhetorical equivalent of picking out the worst photo you can find of someone, holding it aloft and asking with a sneer 'would you buy a used car from this man?' while trying to claim you aren't implying sleaze.

Finally, Ryle Dwyer asks 'what subliminal message is Bertie trying to get across?' Well might we ask the same of Mr. Dwyer. The answer is simple enough. His aim is that, when people recall or celebrate the 1916 Rising in future, rather than focus on how Ireland got fed up of broken promises and squared up to her oppressor, they will shift uneasily and ask themselves 'wasn't there something about Pearse being a paedophile?' Then, with any bit of luck, they will go on to feel uneasy about the whole republican project that led to independence.

Little Lad Of Tricks
Little lad of the tricks,
Full well I know
That you have been in mischief:
Confess your fault truly.
I forgive you, child
Of the soft red mouth:
I will not condemn anyone
For a sin not understood.
Raise your comely head
Till I kiss your mouth:
If either of us is the better of that
I am the better of it.
There is a fragrance in your kiss
That I have not found yet
In the kisses of women
Or in the honey of their bodies.
Lad of the grey eyes,
That flush in thy cheek
Would be white with dread of me
Could you read my secrets.
He who has my secrets
Is not fit to touch you:
Is not that a pitiful thing,
Little lad of the tricks?

"I was saddened by Ryle Dwyer's column denigrating the memory of Padraig Pearse by its clear suggestion that he was either a latent or practising paedophile (Irish Examiner, October 29). Surely the Irish Examiner knows that Pearse has living relatives to which this is hurtful and also cannot be defended against since Pearse is dead. Since a poem is quoted, I presume that much of Ryle Dwyer's contentions are based on it. This it is not the first time that he and others have suggested a paedophiliac connection to this poem. To me this is debatable. The poem contains key words and phrases which Dwyer & co interpret in a certain way while omitting others which balance them. For instance, 'mischief' is a child's word and would never be used to denote adult evil and the phrase 'lad of the tricks' seems highly unlikely to be a pun on 'to turn a trick', as in prostitution. Also the phrase 'a sin not understood' could easily mean, in its stiltiness, a child not knowing anything of sin. In the balancing phrase, 'he who has my secrets is not fit to touch you...' Ryle Dwyer & co will use 'my secrets' as sexual to dilute the 'not fit to touch you' declaration. Anyone knowing of Pearse's mother will know he must have had reservations that secret oaths and the idea of blood sacrifice would horrify a child.

"If one also recalls that Pearse and several of the Rising leaders were flowery writers and dreamers with a belief in the beauty of youth, who also lived in a time when a man's affection and admiration for youth did not carry the present-day stigma of evil, it will at least allow a benefit of the doubt to Pearse on its seeming present-day cloying heavy-handedness. I hope you will let someone more sympathetic to Pearse counter-balance Ryle Dwyer's words in the Irish Examiner in the near future.

In regard to your columnist's opposition to commemorating 1916, in an age when it's OK to have poppy days, veterans' days and to invite Orangemen to Cork's Patrick's Day parade, his words seem right out of the 'kick me Irish croppy' brigade handbook.

"Finally, Ryle Dwyer says we should question our heroes, priests, etc... and I say yes to that, but we should also question our common man selves and forefathers, remembering the society-wide exploitation of kids from industrial schools as cheap and often half-starved labour.

"And who can forget the local pressures to get unmarried mothers and their children out of sight and out of mind. Let's forget our self-righteousness as our present society is built as much on the misery of others as that of our forefathers, and let's stop the constant revision of our history unless it's built on solid fact, not personal theories.

Patrick Walsh, Pullerick, Crookstown, Co Cork (Irish Examiner 5.11.06)

R. Dudley Edwards In Irish Times 3rd July 2004: Web-site:

"The first point to remember about Pearse's relationship with children as perceived by himself, was that he believed utterly that children are innocent, with pure, unsullied souls, hearts and minds, which become tarnished as they grow up, by the cares of the world. This despite the Catholic doctrine of original sin, which regards EVERY human soul as predestined to sin, and several years of teaching young boys which ought to have put any such idealistic notions right out of his head. In sociological terms, he subscribed—or would have done if the term had been conceived in his day—to the principle of culturally defined behaviour, which suggests that it is environment which defines human development—including, presumably, the whiteness of the soul and the innocence of the heart and mind.

"In terms of literature, this view of things—animals or human—born sinless and pure, is unadulterated Blake—or at least the Blake of Songs of Innocence…

"Connemara children do seem to fit his vision of the untarnished innocence particularly well. In The Rann of The Little Playmate, it is perfectly natural that the child Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist should play "Tig and Pookeen and Hide in the Hay," with the peasant children of Connemara fisherman and farmers whose lives were essentially little different from the lives of the fishermen and carpenters of the Galilee shores 2,000 years before. In the Connemara children that he fed sherbet lemons and stories when he 'went native' in the summer vacation, Pearse saw the purity of the Christ Child, if only for a few short years before adulthood changed them to mere sinning mortals. And on reflection, it must be admitted that he has a point. The innocent play of young children in any time or place is a nice thing, and he is right when he regrets, in poems such as Little Lad of The Tricks and To A Beloved Child, that the time of innocence is so fleeting and the adult world so harsh and soul destroying. But his view of Connemara life, as something closer to Godliness than life anywhere else was more than a little naive…

"It was, of course, one of these boys, a junior at St. Enda's school, who was the inspiration for Little Lad of the Tricks and very possibly the other poem in the same vein, To A Beloved Child. Pearse's reaction to the unknown, but obviously minor infraction by the 'little lad' was not to punish it, but to set it aside as unimportant, to give the lad a kiss and to reflect that the secrets of adulthood far outweigh the little sins of a young child. There is evidence in the anecdotes of former pupils that this is typical of Pearse's philosophy of educational discipline.

"At other schools I had perpetually one eye on a Prefect and the other on what I wanted to do. It tended to give me a squint. The Prefect had one already. That is why he was a Prefect. In Saint Enda's there were no Prefects in that sense of the word. You were not watched, or kept under constant observation. You were put on your honour. And on your first transgression Pearse [132]called you to his study; you gave your word not to offend again and you usually kept your word. If you didn't, you knew somewhere at the back of your mind that you we doing something shabby on the Ard-Mhaighistir; that you were letting down him, letting Saint Enda's down, and letting yourself down too... the discipline at Saint Enda's was good. And we mostly told the truth. Even I did." (Reddin, A Man Called Pearse)

"…His philosophy is thoroughly untypical of the thinking on discipline virtually anywhere else in the world. Certainly at the Jesuit run Catholic schools most of his pupils came from, even minor offences were punished with the cane or strap, and his methods must have come as a breath of fresh air to them.

Seán Farrell Moran, who applied modern psychiatric techniques to produce a very disturbing portrait of Pearse to which I have to take exception on many points, has to agree that he was NOT a paedophile. In a footnote on this very subject he says:—

"At the present time, the diagnostic criteria for paedophilia involves active and recurrent sexual urges and fantasies involving sexual activity with children; on the basis of the evidence, Pearse was innocent of conscious paedophilia" (Moran, Politics of Redemption, p.122,footnote).

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