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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Milford connection to Easter Rising

You may think that the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin this month has nothing to do with Milford on Sea, but there is a connection...

Thomas Clarke
click image to enlarge
Thomas James "Tom" Clarke (11 March 1858 – 3 May 1916) was an Irish republican revolutionary leader and arguably the person most responsible for Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising. 

A proponent of armed revolution for most of his life, he spent 15 years in English prisons prior to his role in the Easter Rising, and was executed after it was quashed.

So, the connection? Well, Thomas Clarke was born to Irish parents at Hurst Castle, Milford on Sea in 1858. His parents were Mary Palmer and James Clarke who was a sergeant in the British Army. 

In 1865, after spending some years in South Africa, Sgt. Clarke was transferred to Dungannon, County Tyrone, Ireland, and it was there that Tom grew up.

In 1878, at the age of 20, he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and by 1880 he was head of the local IRB circle. In August that year, after a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) had shot and killed a man during riots between the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) in Dungannon, Clarke and other IRB members attacked some RIC men in Irish Street. They were driven back, however, and Clarke, fearing arrest, fled to the United States.

In 1883 he was sent to London, under the alias of "Henry Wilson", to blow up London Bridge. He was arrested, and along with three others, he was tried and sentenced to penal servitude for life on 28 May 1883 at London's Old Bailey.

Tom Clarke
1916 commemorative plaque
 at the junction of
Parnell Street and O'Connell Street, Dublin.
click image to enlarge
He subsequently served 15 years in Pentonville and other British prisons. In 1896, he was one of five remaining Fenian prisoners in British jails and a series of public meetings in Ireland called for their release.

Following his release in 1898 he moved to Brooklyn in the United States where he married Kathleen Daly. In 1906 the couple moved to a 30-acre farm in Manorville, New York and in 1907 returned to Ireland.

In Ireland he opened a tobacconist shop in Dublin and immersed himself in the IRB which was undergoing a substantial rejuvenation.

When the Irish Volunteers were formed in 1913, Clarke took a keen interest, but took no part in the organisation, knowing that as a felon and well-known Irish nationalist he would lend discredit to the Volunteers. Nevertheless, he had close contacts within the organisation.

In 1915 Clarke and MacDermott established the Military Committee of the IRB to plan what later became the Easter Rising. 

When an agreement was reached with the Irish Citizen Army in January 1916, Clarke was the first signatory on the Proclamation of the Republic. 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; these were given to Pearse, who was more well-known and respected on a national level.

At The Easter Rising, Clarke was stationed at headquarters in the General Post Office during the events of Easter Week, where rebel forces were largely composed of Irish Citizen Army members under the command of Connolly. Though he held no formal military rank, Clarke was recognised by the garrison as one of the commanders, and was active throughout the week in the direction of the fight, sharing the fortunes of his comrades.

Following the surrender on 29 April, Clarke was held in Kilmainham Jail until his execution by firing squad on 3 May at the age of 59. He was the second person to be executed, following Patrick Pearse.

Before execution, he asked his wife Kathleen to give this message. Message to the Irish People; "I and my fellow signatories 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 belief, we die happy."

To read more about Tom Clarke please click here

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