When words fail…

sculpture by Willie Pearse of Roisin Dubh

“I’ve nothing to say”, he wrote, “we’re still here”.  That was all that Willie Pearse wrote to his mother from the burning GPO, during the Easter Rising of 1916. It’s hard to know what to make of that.

Well, I suppose that if you’ve nothing good to say, better to say nothing… better not add to the worry – but I’ve often wondered what was he thinking back then or indeed, what was he like at all. He was my great-granduncle – a dark eyed, lank-haired, pensive young man – if one can judge by the photos…

But he was an artist and I know something about that. I keep hearing about statues that he’s carved – one in Westland Row church, another in Mount Argus, and one I discovered in St. Stephen’s Green this week (see above). It is lovely to seek them out, over one hundred years later, and to discover how sensitive a touch he had.

photo of Our Lady of Sorrows by Willie Pearse, Westland Row Church
Our Lady of Sorrows by Willie Pearse, Westland Row Church

It was quite moving to be able to touch the smooth marble and to know that he had worked on it all those years ago, must’ve spent such intensely focused time on it, carving the marble and creating the beautiful sad face of Róisín Dubh. Ó a Róisín ná bíodh brón ort…

Bhuail an smaoineamh mé le déanaí – tá go leor, leor scríofa faoin bPiarsach ( ’sé sin Pádraic Mac Piarais ) ach céard faoin bPiarsach eile – Liam Mac Piarais?

Bhí mé i Ros Muc ar feadh seachtaine agus chuala mé roinnt scéalta spéisiúla faoi Phádraic ach tá a fhios againn gur chaith Liam tréimhsí ansin chomh maith – ach níor chuala muid aon rud faoi sin. Conas mar a thaithin an áit leis nó céard ar cheap muintir na h-áite faoi? Nó ar thug éinne faoi deara é, ar chor ar bith?

Portrait of Willie Pearse by Eoin Mac Lochlainn
My portrait in oils of my great-granduncle Willie Pearse

N’fheadar cén sort duine a bhí ann, an fear úd a mhúin ealaíon i Scoil Éanna tráth? An fear a mhúnlaigh na dealbha naofa do séipéil ar fud na tíre. An fear a bhíodh ag aisteoireacht ar an stáitse i mBaile Átha Cliath? An fear a cuireadh chun bás tar éis Éirí amach na Cásca?

Bhuel, sin-sean-uncail liomsa a bhí ann.  Ealaíontóir a bhí ann agus ealaíontoir mise freisin. Tá mé ag ceapadh go dtuigim leis – maidir leis an taobh sin dá phearsanacht.

Ní dóigh liom go raibh fonn air é féin a bhrú chun tosaigh ariamh ach tá mé cinnte go raibh sé sásta agus é ag obair leis sa stiúideo. Más féidir le h-ealaíontóir seans a fháil le bheith ag obair, gan aon bhriseadh nó cur isteach, níl aon rud a thaithníonn níos fearr leis nó léi.

Agus is cinnte gur chaith sé go leor ama ar na dealbha sin.  Imíonn an tuirse is fanann an tairbhe.

PS: the face of Róisín Dubh can be found in the lower part of a larger monument to the poet James Clarence Mangan, in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. 







  1. Beautiful. I was visiting with one of my brothers the other day, and he had a book on the last words of the Easter Rising leaders. I noticed that your father was the author. We got to talking about your family connection, and how we all know quite a bit about Padraic but very little about Willie. It’s wonderful that we can at least see something of the character, discipline, and temperament of the man through his work. Thanks for sharing the lovely photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I heard a story whether it’s apocryphal or not I don’t know but I hope it is. Apparantly both brothers were returning to Dublin on the train and in the carriage with them was a very drunk and obnoxious man indeed. Patrick strongly upbraided the fellow strongly saying how he was insulting the nobility of Irish manhood. In the meantime Willie, a completely different personality, was finding it extremely hard to refrain from laughing out loud at the incongruity of the scene. Like I say I hope the story is true as it contrasts the serious ernest-ness of the headmaster and the more laid-back personality of Willie!


    • Yes, that story appeared in Mary Bridget Pearse’s book -“The Home life of Patrick Pearse”… I think the drunk was smoking in a non-smoking carriages, if I remember correctly, and Patrick objected. Yer man kept on and on about it for the rest of the train journey, to the extreme annoyance of Patrick but Willie kept cautioning him (with his eyes) not to engage as it would make matters worse. A revealing snippet alright.


  3. I just got this comment from Brian Crowley, Director of the Pearse Museum, which is a big disappointment because I really loved the Róisín Dubh bust – but I’d have to bow to his superior knowledge… here is his comment:

    Eoin, I loved you post on William Pearse – it is really evocative and moving. One thing however. Although it has been attributed to him, I think the consensus is that the Roisín Dubh piece was by his teacher Oliver Sheppard. I looked into it a bit when I did the entry for Willie for the RIA Dictionary of Irish Art. In his biography, John Turpin definitely attributes it to Sheppard, the model was Beatrice Elvery apparently. In the past I also used to refer to it as a Willie Pearse sculpture, supported by the fact that there was an information panel to that effect in St. Stephen’s Green! Anyway, I thought I would let you know, I hope you don”t mind!


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