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  • Writer's pictureFriends of Sinn Féin USA

Irish Republican Leader and American Citizen Executed by the British 1916

Tom Clarke was executed by the British today in 1916 alongside Patrick Pearse and Thomas McDonagh. He was 58 and a naturalized American Citizen when executed. Twice exiled in the US, imprisoned for 15 years in England, he held no rank in the Irish Volunteers, had little of a public profile, yet was the driving force behind the events of 1916. The story of Tom Clarke is one of continuity, commitment, and selfless dedication to the cause of Irish Freedom. His is a story worth telling. 👇

Thomas Clarke was born in 1858 on the Isle of Wight, the son of Irish parents with his father in the British Army. He lived a large part of his childhood in South Africa, where his father was a station. The family returned home to Ireland and settled in Dungannon, County Tyrone.

There young Tom became interested in Irish Republicanism, he met with John Daly, the Fenian Organiser, and who would become a central figure in this life. Tom joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In August 1880 the Royal Irish Constabulary shot and killed a man following an AOH parade. Tom and the IRB subsequently ambushed the RIC members. Tom went on the run and was exiled in the US.

In New York, Tom immediately joined Clann na Gael. Clarke volunteered for a bombing mission to London and departed New York in 1883. Later that year was captured and convicted.

Clarke recalled his time in jail,

“This was a scientific system of perpetual and persistent harassing… morning, noon and night, bread and water punishments, ‘no sleep’ torture and other tortures. This system was applied to the Irish prisoners and, to them only, and was specially designed to destroy us mentally or physically – to kill or drive insane.”

In jail, he would again meet John Daly. Tom Clarke endured 15 years imprisonment. Released in 1898. aged 37, an unbowed and unbroken Fenian.

He returned to Ireland and met up with this friend Tom Daly and was introduced to Tom’s niece, Kathleen Daly. He quickly returned to New York and again became emerged in Clann na Gael. Kathleen joined him and they married and had three children.

Working for Clan na Gael leader John Devoy on his newspaper, the Gaelic American, provided an income as Clarke set about the work of building a movement for Irish freedom.

He became a naturalized US citizen in November 1905 and by 1907 acquired sixty acres of Land in Manorville, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. All of this provided cover for his real intention; fermenting revolution in Ireland.

Having built support in the US Clarke returned to Dublin in 1907. Between 1907 and 1916 the Clann transferred over $100,000 to Ireland through the network established by Clarke.

On the face of it, he was a semi-successful returning immigrant who opened a tobacconist in the center of Dublin, while he set about restructuring the Irish Republican Brotherhood, joining with and recruiting the leaders of 1916. In 1915 he was responsible for organizing the funeral of fellow New York Fenian O’Donovan Rossa and encouraging Pearse to give his famous oration on behalf of the volunteers.

The unassuming Clarke was the first to sign and proclamation refused the position of President and offered it to Pearse. At the age of 58 and in ill health he joined the volunteers in the GPO.

The night before his execution, he wrote to Kathleen.

“I and my fellow prisoners 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, we die happy. “

Kathleen remained and committed and active republican. Tom Clarke avoided the public profile of other 1916 leaders, but he was the driving force for the Rising and the bridge between Ireland and America.

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