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A school with a difference … Padraig Pearse and St. Enda’s. 

This column seldom strays north of Newlands Cross but an invitation from Eadestown man Brian Crowley to visit St. Enda’s in Rathfarnham, the school where Padraig Pearse pioneered an adventurous approach to education, proved a tempting reason to venture into south Dublin suburbia. Brian Crowley is curator of St. Enda’s and, following many years in a similar role in Kilmainham Jail, is immersed in the personal stories of the Easter Rising leaders, a group whose motivations and achievements will be centre stage as the centenary of 1916 begins to loom large. Padriag Pearse has become the epitome of the soldier-poet … his reading of the Proclamation outside the GPO on Easter Monday, 1916 has been etched in the memory of every Irish schoolchild or at least of those who were at school when a copy of the Proclamation was a mandatory fixture in every classroom. Less appreciated is his pioneering work as a teacher and educationalist. Long before he strapped on the bandolier of an Irish Volunteer he was a teacher committed to finding ways of encouraging the talents of each child rather than subjecting them to the dead hand of an irrelevant and rigid syllabus. And it was in St. Enda’s that his experiment in education was to find its full expression. As a young man he had been an ardent student of the Irish language, of the great Irish mythology of the Fianna, and of the more recent generation of patriots such as Tone and Emmet. And it was while following in the footsteps of Emmet that Pearse found his way to the 18th century gentleman’s house then known as the Hermitage in Rathfarnham. In 1908 he had established a school, Scoil Eanna, in Ranelagh where his passions for patriotism and for teaching offered his students a new window on the world of education – one that was bilingual and immersed in Irish culture but also modern in its concept. Pearse was no dreamer fixated on things past; he was right up to date with alternative approaches to teaching and had travelled to the continent to understand the modern classroom methods pioneered by Maria Montessori. It was this broad view of education that prompted him to relocate from the confines of Ranelagh. He discovered the Hermitage by following the route which had been taken by Robert Emmet on his clandestine forays from the rebellious city to meet with his sweetheart Sarah Curran in the sylvan estate of the eighteenth century house. The historical resonances, coupled with its generous grounds (largely intact) and dramatic location on the foothills of the Dublin mountains, fulfilled his dreams for an exciting place in which to locate a school. He re-established his Scoil Eanna in the Hermitage – promptly renamed St. Enda’s – in 1910 and it was to become a pioneering location for a new approach to education. He adapted the fine house to accommodate a science laboratory, an art gallery, and a museum run by a curator elected by the boys themselves … an early example of student participation in an era when pupils were meant to be seen and not heard. Out at St. Enda’s the school flourished. The boys triumphed on the sports pitch (Gaelic of course) and their dramas were performed on the stage of the Abbey Theatre, itself a crucible of the resurgence of interest in the Celtic inheritance. Naturally the great energy of St. Enda’s suffered a blow when Pearse’s involvement in the military strand of the nationalist movement saw him in the van of the rising of 1916. Even in the chaotic circumstances of that Easter morning, his passion for education was to make its mark on the formative document of the Irish state. The much-quoted phrase in the Proclamation that the new Republic would ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’ may well be grounded in Pearse’s remarkable educational adventure carried through at St. Enda’s.  The good work at St. Enda’s did not end with Pearse’s death in 1916 –  one of his students went on to university, graduated and came back to become principal at the school until it closed in 1935. Today St. Enda’s is one of the State’s hidden gems; its beautiful grounds in Rathfarnham being as good a reason as any to visit. As a parting word, it is worth mentioning that his past pupil who later followed in his footsteps as principal of St. Enda’s was a Kildare man, Frank Burke of Carbury, who was a young volunteer in the Rising and later an All-Ireland winning hurler. But in the words of another Irish poet … sín scéil eile.    Series no: 200.

Liam Kenny in his column 'Nothing New Under the Sun' from the Leinster Leader of 28th October 2010 writes on Padraig Pearse and his pioneering school, St. Enda's. Our thanks to Liam.

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