Born in Dublin in 1879 on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) and educated by the Christian Brothers at Westland Row, before taking a scholarship to the Royal University (University College Dublin) to study law. In 1898 Pearse became a member of the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League. He graduated from the Royal University in 1901 with a degree in Arts and Law. He was later called to the bar.
From his early school days he was deeply interested in Irish language and culture. He joined the Gaelic League in 1895 and became editor of its paper, An Claidheamh Soluis (‘sword of light’). He lectured in Irish at University College Dublin. To advance his ideal of a free and Gaelic Ireland he founded a bilingual school for boys, St Enda’s, at Cullenswood House, Ranelagh, in September 1908. He later moved the school to a larger location in Rathfarnham in 1910.
Initially, Pearse was a supporter of Home Rule but his outlook on Irish freedom was to become more radical and when the Irish Volunteers were formed in November 1913, he was elected a member of the provisional committee and later the Director of Organisation. In July 1914, Pearse was involved in the smuggling of weapons and ammunition through Howth in Co Dublin which were stored at St Enda’s.
Pearse’s graveside oration at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral in 1915, ended with the much quoted words, ‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’, and was influential in the build up to the Easter Rising. One of the founder members of the Irish Volunteers, and the author of the Proclamation of Independence, Pearse was present in the GPO during the Rising, and was Commander in Chief of the Irish forces. After surrendering to save further civilian casualties, he was executed holding a crucifix on May 3, 1916 at Kilmainham, and was buried in quick lime at Arbour Hill.