The Seven Signatories of the Proclamation
Tom Clarke, member of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic
He made an Irish republic his life’s goal. Thomas J. (Tom) Clarke (1858-1916) was born on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, where his father James Clarke, an Irish sergeant in the British army, was stationed.
James was Church of Ireland, but Tom was reared in the faith of his mother, Mary Palmer who was Catholic. The family moved to South Africa and later to Dungannon, Co. Tyrone where Tom grew up from about the age of seven, attending Saint Patrick’s national school. While still in his teens he became a member of the Fenians, possibly as a reaction to his father’s role in maintaining the British empire or in response to local sectarian tensions.
In 1882 Clarke emigrated to the United States, where he joined Clan na Gael. In April the following year he was sent to London on a dynamiting mission, but was betrayed by an informer and arrested in possession of explosives. Sentenced to penal servitude for life, he served fifteen years in extremely harsh conditions in British jails: Millbank, Chatham and Portland. His experiences are recalled in his memoir Glimpses of an Irish Felon’s Prison Life (1922).
Following his release on ticket-of-leave in 1898, he again went to the United States where he eventually found congenial employment with the Clan na Gael leader John Devoy, including a stint as assistant editor of Devoy’s newspaper the Gaelic American. Meanwhile he married Kathleen Daly, niece of the veteran Fenian John Daly who had served time with him in jail; Kathleen was a sister of Edward (Ned) Daly, later to be executed for his part in the 1916 Rising.
The couple had three sons. Clarke became a United States citizen in 1905, but the family returned to Dublin two years later, setting up business in Dublin with tobacconist/ newsagent shops in Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) and Amiens Street. His abiding concern, however, was in securing an Irish republic. Being still on ticket-of-leave, he maintained a low profile, but was an influential figure behind the scenes in the years of preparation for the 1916 Rising.
Together with Denis McCullough, Bulmer Hobson and, most notably, Seán MacDiarmada, he revitalised the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and had a major role in setting up the organisation’s newspaper, Irish Freedom. On the formation of the Irish Volunteers he immediately recognised their potential as an army of revolution.
He joined but avoided being appointed to office. He deplored Redmond’s splitting of the organisation in September 1914, but appreciated that the remaining Irish Volunteers constituted a more effective and cohesive force with the majority of members dedicated to a republic. He welcomed the outbreak of the First World War, seeing England’s difficulty as Ireland’s opportunity.
A member of the IRB Supreme Council, in late 1915 Clarke was co-opted to its Military Council which was responsible for planning the Rising. Clarke worked out the general strategy and MacDiarmada was responsible for the details; Clarke was also the main link with John Devoy, Joseph McGarrity and other supporters in the United States. By virtue of his seniority and his contribution over many years, Clarke was given the honour of being the first signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
During the Rising he remained in the General Post Office with most of the other members of the Provisional Government. He opposed the surrender, but was outvoted. He was tried by court-martial. Tom Clarke was one of the first three rebels executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Jail on 3 May. He was survived by his wife Kathleen Daly and three children.