At the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa the graveside oration was the most important component of the whole event. When organising the funeral Tom Clarke was never in doubt as to who would deliver it. He had previously been impressed by Patrick Pearse’s oratorical skills and duly enlisted him to deliver the message at the graveside.
Pearse, fully aware of the responsibility that had been placed upon him, decided to retire to his summer residence near Rosmuc in Galway to write his script. Accompanied by his brother, Willie, and a friend, Desmond Ryan, he laboured for some time on the speech. Looking for some direction on the tone it should take and how far he should go Pearse wrote to Clarke who replied that he should go
“As far as you can. Make it as hot as hell, throw all discretion to the winds.”
When the work was complete Pearse placed the speech in his pocket and made his way to Dublin to take his position. He arrived on the eve of the funeral and Ryan recalled that he and Pearse found it “electrified with the preparations for the lying in state and the march to Glasnevin. All the peace of the hills and lakes fell from us suddenly.”
When Pearse arrived in Glasnevin Cemetery on 1 August 1915 it was a place that he knew well. His father James had established a stonemasonry business that had provided many monuments for graves in the cemetery over the years. When James died in 1900 the family purchased a grave in the St. Bridget’s section of the cemetery that became the family plot. Patrick’s brother Willie carried on the family business and also completed a number of works in the cemetery.
Reciting his words Pearse left an immediate impact on the crowd. Desmond Ryan recalled how “Beside the grave he stood impressive and austere in green, with slow and intense delivery, and as he cried aloud upon the fools he threw back his head sharply and the expression seemed to vivify the speech which ended calmly and proudly. He walked home alone, and sat in his study, at last he had spoken the just word he sought to immortalise a man less great than himself.”
The speech had delivered its carefully crafted message at the graveside but soon spread much further. Handbills and prints of the speech were produced and circulated and with the events of the following year it took its place among the most important speeches in Irish history.
The oration was also printed in a booklet that was printed following the funeral to tell the story of the day’s events. A list of all those involved in the organisation of the funeral was printed on the final page. It included Tom Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Éamonn Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett. The next time these names would be printed alongside one another was on the 1916 Proclamation.