Thomas Clarke returns to Dublin

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Irish Republican Brotherhood / Fenians, Issue 1(Jan/Feb 2012), Reviews, Volume 20

Thomas Clarke—a charcoal sketch by Seán O’Sullivan. (National Museum of Ireland)

Thomas Clarke—a charcoal sketch by Seán O’Sullivan. (National Museum of Ireland)

In 1873 Thomas Clarke (born on the Isle of Wight, 11 March 1857) travelled to Dublin to be sworn into the IRB. After being sworn in, he went north to Dungannon, but the police got on his track and he eventually left for America in 1880. In the United States he was further inculcated with Irish separatism as a member of Clan na Gael. Sent to England in 1883, he was arrested for his part in an Irish separatist bombing campaign and spent the next fifteen years as a prisoner in various English jails, recounted in his memoir Glimpses of an Irish felon’s prison life. Upon his release he returned to the United States. There he married Kathleen Daly from Limerick, the niece of John Daly, one of his cellmates in Pentonville Prison and the man who had sworn him into the IRB.On his return to Ireland in 1907, Clarke set out to bring the IRB’s ‘physical force’ ideals to a new generation of Irish patriots. He must be given credit for reviving the IRB, establishing its newspaper, Irish Freedom, and bringing new blood into the IRB leadership, especially mentoring his protégé Seán MacDermott. Clarke became the trusted link between the Clan na Gael in the US and the IRB in Ireland, and his contribution to the national revival and the events of the time was crucial. Seán T. O’Kelly wrote of Clarke:
‘If any one man could be said to be responsible for the inspiration of Easter Week, or for the carrying through of the resolution to revolt—credit for that must be given to Tom Clarke. Clarke can truthfully be described as the man, above all others, who made the Easter Rising. He, it was, who inspired it originally, and he, it was, who, in broad outline, laid the plans.’
In Ireland he opened a tobacconist/newsagent’s shop at 75a Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street), which was used by nationalists as a place to transmit messages. Then Clarke 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 particular kinship with Hobson, who became another protégé, along with MacDermott.When the Volunteers were formed in 1913, Clarke obviously took a keen interest but took no outward part in the organisation, knowing that as a felon and well-known Irish rebel he would attract adverse attention to the Volunteers. Nevertheless, with MacDermott, Hobson and other IRB members taking important roles in the Volunteers, it was clear that the IRB would have substantial, if not total, control.On 12 June 1914 John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, issued his ultimatum demanding that his nominees be accepted onto the provisional committee of the Volunteers. The resolution was carried and among those who voted for it was Hobson. As close as they had been, Clarke never spoke to him again.Following Clarke’s falling out with Hobson, MacDermott and Clarke became almost inseparable. The two of them de facto ran the IRB, although it was still under the nominal leadership of other men. In 1915 Clarke, MacDermott and Pearse established the military committee of the IRB to plan what became the Easter Rising.When the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was signed on 18 April 1916, Clarke was given the honour of being the first signatory. It has been said that Clarke would have been the declared president but he refused any military rank and such honours. He served in the GPO as a ‘civilian’. Thomas Clarke was the second to be executed (after Patrick Pearse) on 3 May 1916.  HI
Joseph E.A. Connell is the author of Dublin in rebellion: a directory, 1913–1923 (Lilliput Press, 2006).

Further reading:
K. Clarke, Revolutionary woman: My fight for Ireland’s freedom (ed. H. Litton) (Dublin, 1997).T. Clarke, Glimpses of an Irish felon’s prison life (Cork, 1970).F.X. Martin (ed.), Leaders and men of the Easter Rising (London, 1967).S.T. O’Kelly, in An Phoblacht, 30 April 1926.


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