Sunday 25 September 2016

It's time Dublin honoured the man who made the Rising happen - Tom Clarke

Hugh O'Flaherty

Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30

Dublin city hall, where the seminar will take place
Dublin city hall, where the seminar will take place

Tomorrow in Dublin's City Hall there will be a seminar, arranged by the 1916-21 Club, to discuss the role of Tom Clarke in the Rising. The meeting will highlight his importance in the foundation of the State. The speakers are Dr Martin Mansergh, Tim Pat Coogan, Helen Litton and Dr Shane Kenna.

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Thomas J Clarke was the first signatory to the 1916 Proclamation. He was so selected by his fellow insurgent leaders and he was the de facto president of the Irish Republic.

It is the belief of the members of the 1916-21 Club that Tom Clarke has not been afforded the recognition that he deserves, especially in the capital city, Dublin.

It is true that he has been memorialised in Limerick - his wife, Kathleen was a native of Limerick - and Dundalk train station is named for him. Also, one of the Ballymun towers had been dedicated to his memory but that has now been demolished.

So it is time that he is properly remembered in the city of the Rising.

In various pictures of the 1916 leaders, Tom Clarke comes across as an old man. In fact, he was only 59 in 1916. He had suffered much during 16 years in British prisons for his revolutionary activities and so he appeared more emaciated than his age would have suggested.

Tom was 10 years of age when he returned with his parents from South Africa in 1867.

That was the year of the Fenian Rising. Tom was a life-long Fenian and was also very devoted to Robert Emmet-one of his sons was called after Emmet. He would have agreed with what Liam Mellowes said: that Emmet might have been foolish and youthful, as he has been represented, but it was a greater and nobler thing to be foolish doing right than to be wise doing what was wrong.

Kathleen Clarke (1878-1972) in her book 'Revolutionary Woman' - not published until 1991 - gives an affectionate account of her husband.

"Is it any wonder, and hearing all the talk of the Fenians' attempt to free Ireland, that he developed that all-absorbing love for Ireland for which no sacrifice was too great to make?

"Liberty, family life, all were sacrificed for the freedom of that land. He loved his life as much as any man; he adored his wife and children. He took pleasure in the most trifling things: the first daffodil, the first rose, the sunrise, the sunset, the new-mown hay, the song of the birds, the catkins.

"A garden-lover, he was always happy in a garden and nothing gave him more pleasure than working in a garden. But everything began with Ireland and her freedom."

Mention of his love of gardening reminds us that during the years the couple spent in America, they developed a thriving market-garden business, selling their produce in the New York markets. It meant that they both had a lifelong devotion and affection for the American ideals of freedom and self-determination.

Kathleen always felt that Tom was too modest; he thought too little of himself and what he had suffered. He never considered that his brains or ability were anything out of the ordinary, although in fact they were.

"In the group with which he worked there were poets, writers, teachers, professional men of all kinds, all men of ability, but it was his brain which planned," she wrote

It is clear that more than any other man he was responsible for the Insurrection. While Pearse and Connolly provided a military focus, Tom Clarke was the central civilian figure.

His shop in Parnell Street was a centre for IRB activity. He was the head of what could be called the underground movement. He supervised the O'Donovan Rossa funeral and choose Pearse to deliver a stirring oration.

In commemorating Tom Clarke, the role of his widow, Kathleen, must also be remembered.

She was a redoubtable woman.

Kathleen had lost a husband and a brother, Ned Daly, in the Rising. A further irony is that her husband was the oldest one to be executed in 1916 and her brother the youngest.

She remained a political activist for the rest of her life. She organised the collection of funds for prisoners' dependants. This itself, was a considerable undertaking.

In 1918, she was imprisoned in Holloway Gaol, London, with Maud Gonne McBride and Countess Markievicz. Kathleen Clarke was elected to Dublin Corporation and when the Dáil established republican courts, she became a county court judge and chair of Dublin north city judges.

She was made a freeman of Limerick in 1921, joining her husband on the city's roll of honour. She was also in the Seanad and became Dublin's first woman Lord Mayor from 1939 to 1941.

What would be more appropriate than to name Dublin's Port Tunnel in honour of Tom Clarke? After all, his was the world of the underground - he made no apology for that. Underground movements set against repressive regimes have been revered, such as in France, Italy and Germany in the last war.

A proposal is to be moved at a meeting of the city council to advance this cause. It will ultimately be for the National Roads Authority to give its approval. The hope is that it will come to pass.

l Helen Litton, grandniece of Kathleen Clarke and a speaker at the seminar, has written a life of Tom Clarke (O'Brien Press, '16 Lives' series). I acknowledge the help this work afforded me.

The 1916-21 Club was founded in the 1940s to heal the wounds of the Civil War. It continues to honour the memory of the patriot dead. This present project is to commemorate the memory of Tom Clarke with a permanent structure in the city of the Rising.

Irish Independent

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