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Tom Clarke

Life, Liberty, Revolution
Gerard MacAtasney
For men such as Clarke who had lamented that no effort was made by the IRB during the Boer War this represented an opportunity that had to be grasped. His enthusiastic endorsement of the volunteers during the early months of 1914 is palpable in his letters and conse­quently his devastation at the subsequent split was great. Nevertheless, the new scenario ensured that Clarke and the IRB now realised they had a hardcore prepared to take military action when called upon to do so. The death of O'Donovan Rossa occurred at an opportune time as far as Clarke was concerned and he stage-managed every aspect of the funeral to ensure that the Irish Volunteers took centre stage in a huge public demonstration of re-born Irish Republicanism.

Having seen the devastating effects of an informer at his own trial in 1883 it is perhaps no surprise that Clarke was highly secretive in planning for the Rising. Secrecy was the cement that held the IRB together. Of course this strategy ensured that while the British were not aware of what was happening, many of those who could have participated were also unaware of its advent due to Clarke's paranoia about secrecy. Thus, from a military perspective, the strength of the planning of the Rising represented its greatest weakness.

Why did Clarke support a Rising and what did he hope to achieve from it? Most men would have been content that having spent the best years of their lives in prison they had contributed significantly to the cause of Irish freedom. When Clarke was released he was publicly feted on a number of occasions, but almost immediately was snubbed by John Devoy. However, Clarke considered the struggle for Irish inde­pendence to be above personal glory or petty politicking. One contemporary noted how, 'to fight England was to him the most natu­ral thing in the world for an Irishman'.4 Crucial to the timing of the fight were the political fortunes of Britain and consequently the First World War provided the catalyst the IRB needed to launch an insur­rection. It has already been noted how Clarke bitterly regretted that no action had been taken during the Boer War and indeed Sean MacDiarmada commented that neither Clarke or himself wished to live 'if this thing passed off without making a fight'.5