Monday, July 13, 2020

Minchin and Pearse: Rousing Younger Generations Nearly One Hundred Years Apart

For my Linguistics course, I compared two very different speeches. (links to speeches at bottom) Tim Minchin and Patrick Pearse are two speakers who have very little in common.  Minchin is a musical comedian who relishes in social satire while Pearse was an activist who was killed for his part in the Irish uprising. Tim Minchin’s speech is a graduation speech given at the University of West Australia in September 2013 titled UWA 2013 Graduation Ceremony. Minchin uses humor to share nine life lessons that he has learned. I found those life lessons to be truly inspirational, especially in their simplicity. 

Patrick Pearse gave a striking speech on August 1, 1915 at the graveside of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa who was a leader in the Fenian movement. It is known as “Ireland Unfree Shall Never Be At Peace.” Even though his speech was a graveside service to honor an individual, Pearse took the opportunity to rouse the hearts of the Irish, especially the younger generation, to free Ireland from British control. The speeches were given nearly one hundred years apart, however Minchin and Pearse both addressed the rising generation of their time as the audience they desired to inspire and rally. Both men chose the words they used to great effect, which is what I focused on. 

Graveside Service. Picture from Wikipedia. 

    Tim Minchin begins his speech with a bold statement that life is meaningless. He uses forceful sentences that seem to crescendo and then are chopped off into short sentences that end almost like a punchline. For example, he says that “arts degrees are awesome and they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you . . . there is none”.  He also makes use of the harder stopping sound you get with the phoneme /t/ of bat. These sentences are generally found at the end of paragraphs for emphasis, again like a punchline to his comedic sense of timing, for example: “Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and hit them with a cricket bat”. Where Tim Minchin used humor and common words to get his points across, Patrick Pearse used his words to strike hearts to the importance and seriousness of the Fenian movement. 

Like Minchin, Pearse used the /t/ stop sounds of but and let very powerfully when repeated in this long forceful sentence: “But, friends, let us not be sad, but let us have courage”. Pearse also strings several morphemes together in a powerful urging when he says, “I propose to you, then, that here by the grave of this unrepentant Fenian, we renew our baptismal vows; that, here by the grave of this unconquered and unconquerable man, we ask of God, each one for himself, such unshakable purpose, such high and gallant courage, such unbreakable strength of soul, as belonged to O’Donovan Rossa”. Pearse begins at least two sentences with the adverbs fiercely and deliberately in a flowy, yet strong pattern. The final line of “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace” works better with the word unfree instead of saying it differently like “Ireland without freedom shall never be at peace.” Unfree makes it so much stronger.  


Tim Minchin
Tim Minchin image from UWA

In Tim Minchin’s speech, he employs register effectively by simply speaking in the type of common language used by everyday “blokes” going to art school. He begins talking about doing a “corporate gig” where they “forked out twelve grand for an inspirational speaker who was this extreme sports guy who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird,” Minchin said. to great laughter. Rather than start the speech with a commanding sophisticated type of presence, Minchin becomes relatable to the group of graduating students he is speaking to. However, that does not mean he doesn’t use sophisticated words. He is speaking to graduates after all, art students and science students alike, but he does it in such an easygoing, effortless manner that he truly is speaking to his own kind of people. In one phenomenal sentence, he interweaves slang on a lower register and in the next breath fixes to a different register that shows, although he is funny and common, he is no slough in the mental department either. The paragraph goes as follows: “We must think critically and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and hit them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges. Most of society is kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies and then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions. Like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts”. Another paragraph uses the denotation of dreams. Minchin says, “I never really had one of these dreams and so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals . . . be aware the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery . . . you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye”. With the word dreams, the connotation of a person’s passion and pursuit, the chasing of a dream comes to mind, yet Minchin somehow takes those connotations and flips them on their head as he advises to not hold onto one dream so forcefully that another great thing is never seen. Minchin’s voice has so many great nuances that it is difficult to pick just a few examples of semantic perspective. For example: “Exercise. I’m sorry you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the human movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence” and “I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there!”. The “So there!” at the end structurally does not need to be tacked on, yet it finished the entire thought with a purposeful exclamation.

Patrick Pearse cph.3b15294.jpg
Patrick Pearse image from Wikipedia

Patrick Pearse has a much more serious register in his eulogy. It is the type of register used for Christian religious ceremonies. In fact, the entire speech is layered with the freeing of Ireland being like death and resurrection of the country. Pearse says, “Let us not be sad, but let us have courage in our hearts . . . Let us understand that after all death comes resurrection and that from this grave and the graves surrounding us will rise the freedom of Ireland”. The very words death and resurrection are used throughout the speech as denotations that connect to other phrases and words Pearse uses such as “sacred dead” and “life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations”. He speaks of being “re-baptised [sic] in the Fenian faith” and “strength of soul”. “Let no man blaspheme the cause” and “the holiness and simplicity of patriotism” rally the Christians at the gravesite service to look toward their faith as not only part of their religion, but as a holy cause and “sacred to the dead” . I can barely imagine how their Irish hearts must have been thrumming as Pearse ramped up his speech, crying that “they cannot undo the miracles of God, who ripens in the hearts of young men the seeds sown by the young men of a former generation. And the seeds sown by the young men of ’65 and ’67 are coming to their miraculous ripening today”. The speech seems to pull Ireland from the grave to a glorious resurrection, at least within the hearts of the Irish. Pearse became known as the voice of the rising, although he would not live to see Ireland free.


One of the styles both men utilized is repetition of certain words. Minchin used the word lucky and its variations no less than eight times within one paragraph. “Remember it’s all luck. You are lucky to be here. You are incalculably lucky to be born and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family . . . or if you were born into a horrible family that’s unlucky . . . but you are still lucky”. In the same way, Pearse repeats splendid seven times within his speech: “Splendid and holy causes are served by men who are themselves splendid and holy”. Within this same sentence, Pearse also stylistically repeats words that he has coupled together. The words splendid and holy both begin the above sentence and end it. He repeats groupings of words together in this sentence as well, “Our foes are strong and wise and wary; but, strong and wise and wary as they are, they cannot undo the miracles of God”. The use of and instead of commas makes the phrase stronger and more pleasing to the ear as well. The words used this way and then repeated is more rhythmically enhanced than if he would have said, “Our foes are strong, wise, and wary; but strong, wise and wary as they are . . . ”  


Minchin and Pearse understood the history of their audiences and what language devices to utilize to inspire the younger generations of their countries. In 2013 Western Australia, politics inserted its way into Tim Minchin’s graduation speech. Five months previous, the liberal party won the seat majority in the legislative election, a majority the liberals hadn’t had for close to two decades. There had been hostility among the Australian parties concerning global warming. Minchin knew the audience he was speaking to when he uttered:

The idea that many Australians . . . believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30 percent of the people just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing. 

One hundred years earlier, 1913 Ireland was close to civil war between two factions, those who supported the Anglo-Irish union, and those who were in opposition to any involvement from Great Britain in Irish government. The country was further divided as WWI broke out and Patrick Pearse, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, “came to believe that the blood of martyrs would be required to liberate Ireland” (Britannica). It was with that premise and the hope of rallying the Irish who were weary of British rule to take action against their opposers that Pearse created his graveside service oration. Pearse’s intent for Rossa’s eulogy was less about the deceased man and more about shaping his memory and others in the Fenian movement into types of martyrs for the cause of liberation. He speaks about the valiant and splendid dead throughout the speech.

The speech did have the intended effect and did rally the younger generation of Irishmen as a few short years later in 1915, Pearse led a revolt called the Easter Rising. It failed and Pearse was court martialed and shot, fulfilling his desire that the cause had more blood, becoming one of the greatest martyrs of Ireland. With the knowledge of who they were speaking to and what their audience had been through as a nation, Minchin and Pearse were able to make what they said and how they said it touch the hearts of those listening. Understanding the cultural influences of their audiences also enabled them to establish credibility and a rapport by the strength of the words they drew upon.


The speeches of Minchin and Pearse were given to inspire the rising generation to take action. Both men understood the culture that their target audiences were dealing with. Minchin understood his audience of young graduating college students, ready to embark in great things. They were young; they were art students and philosophy students in a largely liberal country and university. They were celebrating their success at completing their degrees so they were joyful. And Minchin spoke with them in a celebratory tone where he wove in his commonsense lessons in a fun and inspiring way, his voice speeding up in long sentences as his joy for them heightened his speech like a waterfall dropping over the edge that can’t be slowed or stopped. He said, “Life will sometimes seem long and tough and God it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad and then you’ll be old and then you’ll be dead. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence and that is fill it”. The laughter and joy practically springs from his speech.

For Pearse, he and the younger generation a decade behind him never knew a free Ireland. They had seen uprisings come and fail. Many were going or had returned from fighting in World War One, fighting for the freedom of other countries while they had no political say in their own. As Pearse spoke about the valiant fighters who came before them, he included the younger men in their company, passing on the torch to free Ireland, stating that he spoke “on behalf of a new generation that has been re-baptised [sic] in the Fenian faith, and that has accepted the responsibility of carrying out the Fenian programme [sic]”. He knew exactly what he was doing as he cried out, voicing for them all “we pledge to Ireland our love, and we pledge to English rule in Ireland our hate”. Anyone listening would feel that responsibility pumping through their hearts, pumping in sync with the crowd around them as they silently made their own pledge as Pearse said the words out loud.

These were two audiences meeting for different purposes nearly one hundred years apart. One audience met to celebrate their achievements upon graduating college, the other group met to mourn a life of one of their stalwart champions for their own country. The two speakers had the same purpose: to inspire the younger generation listening to them to be better people for their country and for others. Tim Minchin’s UWA 2013 Graduation Ceremony speech and Patrick Pearse’s Ireland Unfree Shall Never Be at Peace oration were enhanced through the language of their respective time periods, and the knowledge each speaker had of what was happening in their countries and culture. They utilized the power of words to relate to the younger generations of their time.  


Sources used: 

Donovan, David. “The Bitter Struggle Between Turnbull and Minchin.” Independent Australia,,2991

Minchin, Tim. “UWA 2013 Graduation Ceremony.” News.Uwa,

“Patrick Pearse: Irish Poet and Statesman.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Accessed Feb. 9, 2019,

Pearse, Patrick. “Ireland Unfree Shall Never Be At Peace.” The Century Ireland Project, RTE. Boston College, Aug. 1, 1915.

“Western Australian State Election 2013.” Parliament of Australia,

Patrick Pearse images:

Tim Minchin image:







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