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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 


University College Dublin Press
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Pearse in his cell before execution. He is thirty-six years old, dressed in the full uniform of the Commander of the Irish Volunteers. He is seated on a chair by a table. On the table are papers, writing material, a blindfold and a crucifix. He may move about but his essential position is a seated one.

I don't like you, Pearse. You know that? Never have. My pathetic otherness, my weakling half. Even when I was a child. I was always trying to get away from you. How could I get away from myself? What an absurdity! We're Siamese twins stuck together. Does everyone have a failed weakling like that inside him? That has to be - eliminated? Actually, I don't think that anyone likes you. I watch their faces as they turn away from you. That look of— distaste. Get me away from this — creature!

What time is it? Taken away my watch. That is the most cruel thing of all. No time. No light. No dawn. Such silence. After all that noise. The sheer noise of that bombardment, deafening. Such a silence now. All stilled.

No. Never liked you. Never! Change that. That's the wrong word, liked! I hate you, Pearse! Hate! Hate! Namby pamby, weakling, no spunk, pasty-faced, pudgy slob, dribbling drawers, afraid of your own shadow — but I am rising above you, you hear - I will leave you behind me as I prepare — prepare myself for the final heroic - that's what's so interesting. It's all so simple. Cleansed myself of all weakness. Just like that. Passed through the flame of purification. I'm ready now.

Always trying to hide, you were, hiding behind Mother's skirts. Not any more. No more hiding. Father was right. He had your measure, my friend, saw through you, he did, saw you for what you were. Wonder what he would think now? I mean think of me? Wonder what he would say about me?

My father the Englishman. What an irony! That self-taught pedant. Don't believe he read half of those books that he had on his shelves.

Willie and I clung to one another in the school-yard on Westland Row while they yelled at us. (Calling in a sing-song voice) Are you English, Pearse? You sound bloody English! Listen to that accent, boys! Go back to where you came from, Pearse. Back to England.' But we're not in the school-yard now, are we? No. We're somewhere else now. Somewhere beyond geography.

Father used to come up from downstairs, up from below. First the sound. He was on the move! In the studio. Behind the shop. The shuffling sound. Far below us. Then the heavy footsteps — clump! clump! — on the stairs. I knew each board on that stairs that creaked. One, two, and a pause before the third. Creak! I waited for him to step on each board — creak! creak! Then on again. He always stopped before opening the door. As if he were taking a deep breath. When he opened the door we were all pent in silence, Mother and the four of us children, as if stricken.

The huge figure, shrouded in the white dust of the chiselled stone. The giant risen from his den. The stone mason. His hammer and chisel put aside, his apron off. Many times he said nothing at all, just sinking into a chair while Mother prepared the food. And the four of us watched him. Then he would sigh, a sound louder than any one of us could make, a great emission of air, diminishing at the end.

But other times he would grasp us four children. Holding us close, close to his chest, a tumble, close, close. As if trying to convince himself that we still existed.

Didn't like that bit, never liked that part. I was frightened by it, yes, I admit it, frightened of him. He often hurt me with his clasp, although I knew he didn't mean to. I tried to hold back. 'Come here, boy! Come closer!' The rough serge cutting my face. 'Give me your hand, boy! Tight! Tighter! Like this!' Then the whispering. Stubble on the chin, rasping against my cheek, the whispers: 'Is our Pat a Molly boy? Is he? Ha? How are we going to make a man of him, our Paddy? What are we going to do with him? Hah? Stand up straight, boy! Shoulders back!'

When they come for me I will walk out of here. Whistling. Cannot get that boy out of my head, boy in the GPO. And what happened to him. Three o'clock they will come for me. The hour of Golgotha. Sweet Jesus Christ! Christ be my mentor at this hour! Christ be my example in this as in all things. Upon the cross, bruised flesh. Blood. What would he say about me now, if he were here? That's the question. My father, the crude Englishman? Mother at the foot of the cross. Mother, waiting for me to die.

They dragged the boy to me in the GPO. Not to Connolly. To me. It was Wednesday afternoon. Connolly lay on the stretcher beside one of the counters, the usual group around him, the acolytes, the comrades. They were always in attendance, all listening to what he had to say. But the boy was brought to me, dragged across the Main Hall. Not to Connolly, mark you! I can see him still. He had a shock of fair hair across his forehead. He could not have been more than twenty, maybe younger.

At first I yelled at them. 'What is this?' I cried, 'I'm extremely busy, can't you see!' I had been preoccupied all morning trying to put the finishing touches to my manifesto. The noise was tremendous, the bombardment of the heavy guns overhead, the constant small arms fire. I was trying to put what shape I could to the words on the page. T must get this out,' I yelled, waving my papers at them. 'This is for posterity!'

They told me that the boy was trying to run away. I saw the fine down on his cheek and the rivulets of sweat on his skin. 'No, sir!' he shouted. 'No, sir! 'Tisn't that at all, so it's not. Not running away.' 'Do you know the penalty for desertion?' I asked him. 'Not a deserter, General, so I'm not.' And I believed him.