Pearse’s pastoral hideaway: ripe for commemoration?
The State seems reluctant to build a cultural centre at Pádraig Pearse’s cottage in Rosmuc, Connemara, to remember our ‘Ghandi with guns’
Lake view: Pádraig Pearse’s cottage overlooking Loch Oiriúlach. Photograph: Seán Mannion/Connemara Light
Loch Oiriúlach translates as Lake by the Thickets, and the young Dubliner who acquired a site by it just over a century ago had an eye for a rural idyll. No worries then about septic-tank or water charges or non-principal-private-residence tax: his main challenge was money to build on a meagre teacher’s wage.
It took him four years, and many trips west, taking the train to Maam Cross on the Galway-Clifden line, and covering the last few kilometres by sidecar. By 1909 Pádraig Pearse had his little thatched cabin near Rosmuc village.
It was known as an Aill Mhór, named after the big rock at the back of the house depicted in Pearse’s story Eoghainín na nÉan. The writer was himself “a very timid person with that shyness that is the preserve of the loner”, the local Gaelic League organiser Colm Ó Gaora wrote in his autobiography, Mise.
Ironically, the 1916 Rising leader’s affinity for south Connemara was shared by the earl of Dudley, the British lord lieutenant, who owned Inver Lodge, a little farther west, where he entertained his mistress, Gertie Miller.
“Imagine the impact of that story if told properly by the State,” says the Independent south Connemara councillor and broadcaster Seósamh Ó Cuaig, who is a grand-nephew of Colm Ó Gaora, and the maker of a documentary,Taibhsí na Staire, that deals with the relationships Pearse and the earl had with Rosmuc.
“There was Pearse penning some of his best writings, and being visited by almost every 1916 proclamation signatory, and the queen’s representative having it off with his lady in his large lodge down the road . . . The whole history of Ireland in two Connemara holiday homes within one half square mile.”
It’s not quite the story that a handful of visitors, most on bikes and in Lycra with a mix of English and Australian accents, hear on a cloud-free summer’s morning, having ventured up the short lane to the cottage. Still, it’s uncompromising enough, as two Office of Public Works tour guides explain how this “quiet young writer, educationalist and advocate of the nonpolitical ideals of the Gaelic League, and Home Rule supporter”, was appointed to the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s supreme and military councils shortly after he joined it, in 1914.
In the guest bedroom Pearse’s poem The Wayfarer hangs on a wall behind the single wooden bed. His own bedroom has a small desk, but he often wrote by the lake, the guide explains, recounting how visiting Irish students stayed there in big tents during Connemara’s first coláiste samhradh.
It takes all of 15 minutes to complete the tour, and several of the cyclists then sit down to picnic on the knoll overlooking the lake, where Pearse once taught his brother Liam how to swim. It “seems a very understated way to celebrate your Gandhi with guns”, observes one Australian, while his companion wonders if there’s some “ideological objection to a coffee shop”.
The Connemara Wild at Heart tourism industry grouping believes that more should be made of Pearse’s cultural connections with the west. “Politics aside, there was a lot more to Pearse, and Connemara can make so much more of this,” says Dominic Ó Moráin, spokesman for Connemara Wild at Heart and manager of Lough Inagh Lodge. “You take all the people who come here to visit Kylemore Abbey and Clifden, and who would spend more time in the area if they had an additional destination.”
More than 10 years ago Fianna Fáil incorporated a cultural-centre project on land close to Pearse’s cottage into the National Development Plan. The former Fianna Fáil arts minister Síle de Valera earmarked €1.2 million, Údaras na Gaeltachta promised an additional €1 million, and, as minister for community, rural and gaeltacht affairs, Eamon Ó Cuív forecast 2004 as completion date.
The project went in and out of favour for a number of years, but last February officials from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht met their counterparts at Údaras na Gaeltachta and Fáilte Ireland to review progress. “It transpired that all funding available to Fáilte Ireland for projects of this nature is committed until 2015,” the department has recently confirmed.
Fáílte Ireland says that “should a capital investment announcement be made by Government, we can then look again at the further development of the project”. It says its current priority is development of the Wild Atlantic Way driving route, along the western seaboard, which includes a number of “tourism discovery points”, including one at An Gort Mór that “will tell visitors the stories associated with Pearse’s cottage”.
The Connemara Wild at Heart grouping, and campaigners such as Seósamh Ó Cuaig, are disappointed but not undeterred. “People in Rosmuc are very proud, and not one bit embarrassed, about Pearse’s connections with the area,” says Ó Cuaig. If the State is uncomfortable about Pearse’s use of physical force, he says, “the State should be putting more emphasis on his nonviolent side, as an educationalist, a writer and a supporter of Home Rule.”