Kearney, Peadar (1883–1942), revolutionary and song-writer, was born 12 December 1883 in Dorset St., Dublin, eldest of three sons and three daughters of John Kearney, grocer and businessman, and Katie Kearney (née McGuinness). Christened Peter Paul Kearney, he was educated at the Model School, and later the CBS, Marino. He was never a diligent student; in his early teens his father decided to apprentice him to O'Neills on North King St., a bicycle-puncture repair shop. In 1901 he joined the Gaelic League, and soon after the IRB; it seems he was sworn into the latter while walking down a street. Interested in music and theatre, he was a property man, and later a stage manager, for the Abbey Theatre (1904–16).
It is for his song-writing, and not his revolutionary activity, that Kearney is now remembered. He wrote a number of patriotic songs for the IRB, many of which were set to music by his friend Patrick Heeney (1881–1911). Born on 19 October 1881, Heeney, like Kearney, was the son of a grocer, and they began collaborating on songs together in 1903. In 1907 Kearney decided to compose a rousing chorus song, which was written at his home, and at the Swiss Cafe, at the corner of Sackville (later O'Connell) St.; Heeney provided the music. The result was ‘A soldier's song’, which only gradually achieved popularity but would later became the Irish national anthem. Both men also composed the popular songs ‘Michael Dwyer keeps his word’ and ‘The flag of green’. Heeney died in 1911, and the following year Kearney submitted ‘A soldier's song’ to his friend Bulmer Hobson (qv) who published it in Irish Freedom. With the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1914, this piece was adopted as their marching song, and it became the ‘national’ anthem for republicans after the 1916 rising. It was first sung in America that same year, when Victor Herbert (qv) performed his own musical arrangement in New York.
Kearney, meanwhile, was less than successful at his other endeavours. He wrote two plays, including one on Wolfe Tone (qv), that were not successful, before attempting painting and even teaching Irish, where one of his students was Sean O'Casey (qv). In 1913 he sought work in Glasgow, but returned after more failure. In 1916 he toured England with the Abbey Theatre, but quit to return home for the planned insurrection. During Easter week he fought at Jacob's factory, but escaped arrest when the rising was put down. He played a minor role in politics in the following years, but was arrested 25 November 1920, and spent a year in Ballykinlar internment camp, Co. Down. Released after the Anglo–Irish treaty (December 1921), he took the pro-treaty side and served as official censor at Kilmainham and Portlaoise prisons. Retiring from politics after the civil war, he decided on a career as a house-painter. In July 1926 ‘A soldier's song’ (increasingly sung in Irish as ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’) was adopted as the official anthem of the Irish Free State. Kearney died 24 November 1942 at his home in Inchicore, Dublin, in relative poverty. His other songs include ‘The three-coloured ribbon’ and ‘Down by the glenside’. A small man, of some wit, he recommended Ulysses, by James Joyce (qv), to student priests because ‘every possible mortal sin is mentioned in it’ (de Burca, 226). He married (15 February 1914) Eva Flanagan; his letters to her from prison were published in 1975. Kearney's sister, Kathleen Behan (qv) was mother of Brendan Behan (qv). Another brother-in-law was P. J. Bourke (qv), (1883–1932) who is credited with the first performance of ‘A soldier's song’.