Thomas Clarke (Irish Republican)

Thomas James Clarke
Tomás Séamus Ó Cléirigh
Born (1857-03-11)11 March 1857
Isle of Wight, England
Died 3 May 1916(1916-05-03) (aged 59)
Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland
Other names Henry Wilson
Organization Irish Republican Brotherhood
Political movement Irish republicanism
Spouse(s) Kathleen Clarke
Children 3

Thomas James "Tom" Clarke (Irish: Tomás Séamus Ó Cléirigh; 11 March 1857 – 3 May 1916)[1] was an Irish revolutionary leader and arguably the person most responsible for the 1916 Easter Rising. A proponent of armed revolution for most of his life, he spent 15 years in prison prior to his role in the Easter Rising, and was executed after it was quashed.

Early life

Clarke was born on the Isle of Wight to Irish parents.[2] His father, James Clarke, was a sergeant in the British Army. The family soon moved to Dungannon, County Tyrone, Ireland.

Irish Republican Brotherhood

At the age of 18 he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1883 he was sent to London to blow up London Bridge as part of the Fenian dynamite campaign advocated by Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, one of the IRB leaders exiled in the United States.

Clarke was soon arrested, under the alias of "Henry Wilson". Along with three others, he was tried and sentenced to penal servitude for life on 28 May 1883 at London's Old Bailey.[3]

He subsequently served 15 years in Pentonville and other British prisons. In 1896, he was one of five remaining Fenian prisoners in British jails and a series of public meetings in Ireland called for their release. At one meeting, John Redmond MP, leader of the Parnellite Irish National League, said of him: "Wilson is a man of whom no words of praise could be too high. I have learned in my many visits to Portland for five years to love, honour and respect Henry Wilson. I have seen day after day how his brave spirit was keeping him alive ... I have seen year after year the fading away of his physical strength". Henry Wilson was, as historian Dermot Meleady points out, the alias of Tom Clarke.[4]

Following his release in 1898 he moved to Brooklyn in the United States where he married Kathleen Daly, 21 years his junior, whose uncle, John Daly, he had met in prison. Clarke worked for the Clan na Gael under John Devoy. In 1906 the couple moved to a 30-acre (120,000 m2) farm in Manorville, New York and bought another 30 acres (120,000 m2) in 1907 shortly before returning to Ireland the same year.[5]

In Ireland he opened a tobacconist shop in Dublin and immersed himself in the IRB which was undergoing a substantial rejuvenation under the guidance of younger men such as Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullough. Clarke had a very close kinship with Hobson, who along with Sean MacDermott, became his protegé.

The Irish Volunteers

When the Irish Volunteers were formed in 1913, Clarke took a keen interest, but took no part in the organisation, knowing that as a felon and well-known Irish nationalist he would lend discredit to the Volunteers. Nevertheless, with MacDermott, Hobson, and other IRB members such as Eamonn Ceannt taking important roles in the Volunteers, it was clear that the IRB would have substantial, if not total, control, (particularly after the co-option of Patrick Pearse, already a leading member of the Volunteers, into the IRB at the end of 1913). This proved largely to be the case until leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, demanded the Provisional Committee accept 25 additional members of the Party's choosing, giving IPP loyalists a majority stake. Though most of the hard-liners stood against this, Redmond's decree was accepted, partially due to the support given by Hobson. Clarke never forgave him for what he considered a treasonous act.

Planning the uprising

Following Clarke's falling out with Hobson, MacDermott and Clarke became almost inseparable. The two of them, as secretary and treasurer, respectively, de facto ran the IRB, although it was still under the nominal head of other men, James Deakin, and later McCullough. In 1915 Clarke and MacDermott established the Military Committee of the IRB to plan what later became the Easter Rising. The members were Pearse, Ceannt, and Joseph Plunkett, with Clarke and MacDermott adding themselves shortly thereafter. When the old Fenian Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, died in 1915, Clarke used his funeral (and Pearse's graveside oration) to mobilise the Volunteers and heighten expectation of imminent action. When an agreement was reached with James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army in January 1916, Connolly was also included on the committee, with Thomas MacDonagh added at the last minute in April. These seven men were the signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic, with Clarke as the first signatory. It has been said that Clarke indeed would have been the declared President and Commander-in-chief, but he refused any military rank and such honours; these were given to Pearse, who was more well-known and respected on a national level.

The Easter Rising

Clarke was stationed in the headquarters at the General Post Office during the events of Easter Week, where rebel forces were largely composed of Irish Citizen Army members under the command of Connolly. Though he held no formal military rank, Clarke was recognised by the garrison as one of the commanders, and was active throughout the week in the direction of the fight, and shared the fortunes of his comrades.[6] Following the surrender on 29 April, Clarke was held in Kilmainham Jail until his execution by firing squad on 3 May at the age of 59. He was the second person to be executed, following Patrick Pearse.

Before execution, he asked his wife Kathleen to give this message. Message to the Irish People, 3 May 1916.

'I and my fellow signatories believe we have struck the first successful blow for Irish freedom. The next blow, which we have no doubt Ireland will strike, will win through. In this belief, we die happy. '


His widow Kathleen was elected a TD in the First and Second Dála, notably speaking against the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Legacy

  • Thomas Clarke Tower in Ballymun was named after him. The top floor was used as a short stay hotel before its demolition in April 2008.
  • Dundalk railway station was given the name Clarke on 10 April 1966 in commemoration of Clarke's role in the 1916 Rising.
  • He also featured on postage stamps in 1966.
  • Dungannon Thomas Clarkes, a successful Gaelic Football team from East Tyrone in Northern Ireland are also named after him.
  • Dungannon has a 1916 Society named in his honour, Cumann Thomáis ui Chléirigh www.tomclarkesociety.com

References

Notes

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