Tom Clarke (Irish republican)

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Thomas Clarke

Thomas James Clarke (March 11, 1857-May 3, 1916) was an Irish revolutionary leader and was perhaps the man most responsible for the Easter Rising of 1916. He was born in 1857 on the Isle of Wight, though his family soon moved to Dungannon, County Tyrone. 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 dynamiting campaign advocated by Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, one of the IRB leaders exiled in the United States. Clarke was captured and subsequently served 15 years in Pentonville Prison. Following his release in 1898 he married Kathleen Daly (21 years his junior), whose uncle, John, he had met in prison. Together they emigrated to America, where Clarke worked for the Clan na Gael under John Devoy. In 1907 he returned to Ireland where he opened a tobacco 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 protegés.


The Irish Volunteers

When the Irish Volunteers were formed in 1913, Clarke took a keen interest, but took no part in the organization, 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 John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, demanded equal control of the Volunteers. 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 Rising

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 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 signers of the Easter Proclamation, 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, which 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 at Dublin during the events of Easter Week, where command of the rebel forces was largely under Connolly. Following the surrender on April 29, Clarke was held in Kilmainham Jail until his execution by firing squad on May 3. He was the second person to be executed, following Pearse.


  • Kathleen Clarke, My Fight For Ireland's Freedom
  • F. X. Martin (ed.), Leaders and Men of the Easter Rising, Dublin 1916
  • Max Caulfield, The Easter Rebellion, Dublin 1916
  • Robert Kee, The Green Flag
  • F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine

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