Tom Clarke (1858 - 1916):
Thomas “Tom” Clarke was born in 1858 to Irish parents in Hurst Castle, Milford-on Sea, Hampshire. His father was a sergeant in the British Army. Sergeant Clarke and family were transferred to South Africa, for some years. In 1865 the father was posted to Dungannon, where Clarke grew up. In 1878 he was recruited into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), by John Daly an IRB organizer. Clarke soon became head of the IRB in the town. After an altercation with police, Clarke fled to America to avoid arrest. Here he became involved with the exiled Fenians and, in 1883, under the alias Henry Wilson, was sent to Britain as part of the dynamite campaign organized by O’Donovan Rossa. His mission was to blow up London Bridge. Clarke and three others were arrested, on the evidence of an informer, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Fenian prisoners were treated harshly by prison staff and inmates alike. He survived a regime which included sleep deprivation, shortage of food and long periods of solitary confinement. Many Irish prisoners cracked under these conditions. Clarke survived partly by surreptitious contact with fellow inmate John Daly, who had initially recruited Clarke into the IRB. By 1896 Clarke was one of five IRB prisoners still incarcerated in Britain. After a long campaign, which had the support of John Redmond, the Parnellite MP, Clarke was released in 1898.
He moved to Brooklyn USA where he met and married Kathleen Daly. A niece of John Daly, she was twenty-one years Clarke’s junior. He joined Clan na Gael run by the old Fenian John Devoy. He was granted US citizenship and in 1906 he and Kathleen bought a farm in Long Island. However, the following year the couple returned to Ireland. In Dublin they opened a tobacconist and Clarke made contact with the IRB. The organization was renewing itself after a long period of inaction and organizational degeneration. This renewal was largely the work of a group of younger northerners, principally Denis McCullough and Bulmer Hobson. When the latter moved to Dublin, he and Clarke became close. They were soon joined in the Dublin IRB by Sean MacDermott (MacDiarmada), a native of Leitrim.
1913 saw the formation of the Irish Volunteers (IVF), a response in part to the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which opposed Home Rule. The aim of the IVF was to defend the Home Rule Bill, then going through Parliament. The IRB infiltrated the Volunteers aiming to use them for a rising. Although Clarke joined the IVF, he stayed in the background, partly due to his status as a convicted felon. MacDiarmada, Hobson and other IRB members dominated the Volunteer executive. Padraic Pearse, who was already a member of the Volunteer executive, joined the IRB late in 1913. The coming of war in 1914 seemed to fulfill the old adage that ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’. Clarke and MacDiarmada began making preparations for a rising and set up a military committee of the IRB. The other members were Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamon Ceannt, and a co-opted James Connolly. Clarke’s friendship with Bulmer Hobson turned to enmity when he supported the takeover of the Volunteers by John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
The conspirators set the date of the rising for Easter Sunday 1916. Roger Casement was sent to Germany to obtain arms. The plan was that these would be landed in Kerry and distributed for a nationwide uprising. Casement was brought separately to Kerry in a German U-boat. Eoin MacNeill, although titular head of the Volunteers, was kept in the dark by the conspirators, He would only agree to a rising in the event of the shelving of Home Rule or the arrest of the Volunteer leadership. MacNeill was told by the conspirators that arms were on their way. In addition he was deceived into thinking that the authorities were about to move against the Volunteer leadership, by a bogus ‘Castle Document’. He issued call-out orders to the IVF. However, the arms ship was intercepted by the Royal Navy and scuttled by its captain. This was followed by the arrest of Casement. When MacNeill learned that the ‘Castle Document’ was a forgery and the arms had been lost, he countermanded his initial orders. With the hope of a national uprising now gone, a meeting of the insurgent leadership was held, on Easter Sunday night in Connolly’s union HQ, Liberty Hall. They decided to go ahead with a rising next day, even though it stood little chance of success. It was an almost entirely Dublin affair, with a much depleted force made up of a rump of the Volunteers and Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.
On Easter Monday, Clarke took his place in the headquarters of the Rising, the General Post Office, in Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). Clarke’s was the first signature on the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read publicly, by Pearse, in front of the GPO. Clarke could have been Commander in Chief and ‘President of the Republic’ but he eschewed such titles. Pearse was better known nationally. Clarke was active in the GPO with the other leaders until it was evacuated on Friday. He was one of a minority who voted against Pearse’s decision to accept terms of unconditional surrender. After a short court martial, he received a sentence of death by firing squad, to be carried out in Kilmainham Gaol yard. He was the second to be executed, after Pearse. Shortly before his execution, he was allowed a visit by his wife Kathleen. He told her to deliver the following message to supporters.
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 death and those of the other executees transformed the Irish political landscape, the effects of which are still felt in the early twentieth-first century.
|Born:||11 March 1858|
|Died:||3 May 1916|
© 2017 Ulster History Circle