Died: May 3, 1916 in Dublin
Thomas Clarke lived in America for a time but soon returned to Ireland. He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood at a young age and spent fifteen years in prison for possessing explosives. Clarke again left for America but came back to Dublin in 1907. He started his own business and used it as a meeting place to discuss Irish affairs (often with Séan MacDiarmada). Though Clarke’s health was not the best when the Easter Rising occurred, it should not be thought that because of Clarke’s health, age, or appearance that he was meek. His colleagues revered him for his wisdom and spunk and he was the first to sign the Poblacht. Though Clarke looks to be timid or even diffident, it has been rumored that officials in Dublin were keeping the closest watch on him.
"Then in 1907 Tom Clarke, a most fanatical revolutionary, was co-opted onto the IRB’s governing council. Born in 1857, he was in his twenties when he became involved in a dynamiting campaign in England and was sentenced, in 1883, to penal servitude for life. After fifteen years, he was released and went to America, where he was soon in touch with the Clan na Gael. When he returned to Dublin, he kept a tobacconist’s shop and, ‘with his large, cheap spectacles, drooping moustache and frail figure,’ to quote the historian J.S.L. Lyons, ‘he looked the small tradesman’s part to perfection.’ His looks, of course, belied him; they were more or less a disguise. For this meek shopkeeper was the all-important linkman between the IRB and America" (Peter & Fiona Somerset Fry, A History of Ireland).
"The first signature to appear on the Proclamation is that of Tom Clarke (Thomas J. Clarke) and it was an honour wholly deserving of the man. More than any other, Tom Clarke had suffered for his ideals. Aged fifty-nine, sixteen of those years had been spent inside English jails, and under conditions of misery which would not be the unhappy lot of even the humblest of animals. …One wonders how, when the time came, this man of iron viewed the failure of the Rising, which was to be his last act in a lifetime’s toil and cruel suffering for the ideal which he cherished" (Rex Taylor, Michael Collins).
For more on Thomas Clarke, please read Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916 by Peter DeRosa.