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The story of Thomas Clarke

 

The Story of Thomas J. Clarke
By AOH National Historian
Mike McCormack

 

Every nation honors the memory of Patriots whose personal sacrifices contributed to their freedom. In our United States, George Waashington looms up larger than life as the personification of the American Revolution, although Sam Adams was its architect and Nathan Hale a martyr for is cause. In Ireland's struggle for independence, the Easter Rising of 1916 is the landmark rising that led to today's Rebublic of Ireland. It is the Lexington and Concord of the Irish history - when a handful of hopefuls stood firm against the might of England for the principle of freedom. Padraig Pearse, who led the men of Easter week, is the personification of the Easter Rising to many, yet the architect of that rising who gave his life in its cause was Thomas J. Clarke

Born in 1857 and raised in County Tyrone where the landlord-dominated Irish population had been reduced to serfdom, in 1878 he joined the ranks of the Fenian Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a secret revolutionary organization not unlike our own Sons of Liberty. In 1881, his activities caused him to flee to America. He settled in New York, and became active in Clan Na Gael, the American branch of the Fenian Movement. On a trip to England in 1883, he was captured and sentenced to life for Fenian activities. Prison existence was so severe for Irish prisioners that a Court of Enquiry eventually released him in 1898. He returned to the U.S., married Miss Kattie Daly, and settled in Brooklyn. Clarke returned to Fenian activities and was employed by an Irish American newspaper edited by John Devoy - the most powerful figure in Clan Na Gael at the time. Respected for the suffering he endured for Irish freedom, Clarke became one of the Clan's most trusted members.

In Sept., 1906 he moved to Suffolk county. In December, 1907 he was called to Ireland to rejuvenate the IRB. As the trusted link between them and the Irish exiles of the Clan Na Gael, he was appointed to the Supreme Council of the IRB and was one of its most powerful advocates of revolutionary action. He plotted a course to replace inactive members of the Council with young militants, and attract new blood into the movement. In 1913, he heard a young schoolteacher speak at a commemoration ceremony and invited him to deliver an oration at the grave of Irish patriot, Wolfe Tone - a ceremony which became an annual event of considerable nationalist significance. Within a few weeks, the young schoolteacher, Padrig Pearse had joined the IRB.

As the strongest advocate of revolutionary action, Clarke set the course that led to the Easter Rising. With the start of the Irish Volunteer movement of 1913, Clarke ` insured that IRB men were on the Volunteers Committee, and Pearse became the critical link between the two groups. In May of 1915, Clarke established a Military Council of the IRB; by year's end, had set a date for a rising. Clarke brought labor leader James Connolly into the Council, thereby insuring the support of the Irish Citizen Army - a group formed to protect workers during strikes. In February, he informed the Clan that a rising would take place in Dublin on Easter Sunday and signal the start of a nation wide rebellion. The confusion of events caused by the Volunteer Chief of Staff MacNeill's late discovery of the secret plans, upset the original schedule and caused the historic decision to rise on the following day - Easter Monday. It was not the rising that Clarke had planned, but a braver and more hopeless one in military terms since hope had vanished for a subsequent rising on a national scale. Yet, it altered the course of the Irish nation, for Irish resentment to the brutality with which the rising was crushed led to her War of Independence. The Easter rising was led by the leading patriots of the day - all of whom were executed for their dreams. Yet, the respect of these leaders for their mentor was paramount. Just prior to the rising, when the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was drawn up, the man given the honor of having his name affixed first was the veteran Fenian, Thomas J. Clarke.

In 1983, a single sentence in an old biography of Tom Clarke led to a remarkable search. It referred to his relocation to Suffolk County, Long Island and AOH County Historian Mike McCormack was given the task of finding that Homesite. A committtee was set up and intensive research through old books, records, and conversations with recognized experts in the field, revealed little. Finally. a search of thousands of deeds in the Town of Brookhaven archives produced not one, but two deeds showing that Thomas J. Clarke, of Brooklyn New York, had purchased 30 acres in Manorville in 1906, and an adjoining 30 in 1907. The names on those deeds is the same at that found in the primary position on the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It was a find of considerable historical significance.

Mike lobbied the Town of Brookhaven politians to declare the site a Historic Landmark, and began a national fundraising effort to erect a suitable monument. Former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey arranged for an obelisk of Wicklow granite to be quaried, carved and engraved in Ireland and sent to New York. Then the Irish-led labor unions got involved. Teddy Gleason, head of the Longshoreman"s Union donated the time and manpower to unload the monument and hand it over to the teamsters who trucked who trucked it to the Manorville site where Charlie Duffy's Operating Engineers Union erected it.

On May 8, 1987, 71 years after his execution, a 2-ton obelisk of Wicklow Granite was erected on the land Tom Clarke walked in life. It stands today as a permanent reminder of the sacrifice of one man for the welfare of many.

Updated on May 22 2013