William James “Willie” Pearse, Irish republican executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Dublin on November 15, 1881. He is a younger brother of Patrick Pearse, a leader of the rising.
Throughout Pearse’s life he lives in the shadow of his brother to whom he is devoted and with whom he forms a particularly close relationship.
Pearse inherits his father’s artistic abilities and becomes a sculptor. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School, Westland Row. He studies at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art under Oliver Sheppard. He also studies art in Paris. While attending the Royal College of Art in London he gains notice for several of his artworks. Some of his sculptures are to be found in St. John’s Cathedral in Limerick, the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba in Letterkenny and several Dublin churches. He is trained to take over his father’s stonemason business, but gives it up to help Patrick run St. Enda’s School which he founds in 1908. He is involved in the arts and theatre at St. Enda’s and aids the overall running of the school.
Pearse follows his brother into the Irish Volunteers and the Republican movement. He takes part in the Easter Rising in 1916, always staying at his brother’s side at the General Post Office. Following the surrender he is court-martialed and sentenced to death. It has been said that as he is only a minor player in the struggle it is his surname that condemns him. However, at his court martial he emphasizes his involvement.
On May 3, 1916, Pearse is granted permission to visit his brother in Kilmainham Gaol, to see him for the final time. However, while he is en route, Patrick is executed. He is executed on May 4. He and his brother are the only two brothers to be executed after the Easter Rising.
There are many more public commemorations of Patrick Pearse than of William. In 1966, Dublin’s Westland Row railway station is renamed Dublin Pearse railway station to honour both brothers. Pearse Square and Pearse Street in Dublin are renamed in honour of both, Pearse Street (then Great Brunswick Street) having been their birthplace. Many streets and roads in Ireland bear the name Pearse. Few name William, but there is a Pearse Brothers Park in Rathfarnham. The bridge over the River Dodder on the Rathfarnham Road, between Terenure and Rathfarnham is named after them and carries a plaque depicting the brothers in profile.
Brothers Pearse Athletic Club, founded in Rathfarnham, is named after the two brothers. A number of Gaelic Athletic Association clubs and playing fields are named after both Pearses, and at least one after William.