Big cultural night for Clarkes

Aidan O'Neill, Bertie Foley and Brendan Foley were at the Tyrone GAA 'Back to the Future: Part 2' night in the Cardinal O'Fiaich Library and Archive, Armagh. INTT0611-702DCA
Aidan O'Neill, Bertie Foley and Brendan Foley were at the Tyrone GAA 'Back to the Future: Part 2' night in the Cardinal O'Fiaich Library and Archive, Armagh. INTT0611-702DCA

To many folk the names of GAA clubs are merely that, but to others with a penchant for culture the name is almost everything. Now I must confess that wasn’t keen on history when I was at school, but was intrigued about the origin.

Thus it was with great interest that I learned of an opportunity for folk to learn more about the man whose remarkable life is commemorated by the club for whom I played and won my only championship medal, the minor title we won in the same year that England were crowned soccer champions of the world.

The new book on the life of Thomas J.Clarke, first signatory to the Easter Proclamation 1916, will be launched in the Ranfurly House Arts Centre, Market Square in Dungannon on Thursday at 7.30pm.

The launch is in association with the Thomas Clarke GFC who have proudly borne Clarke’s name since the club was founded in 1917.

The author, Gerard McAtasney who’s a native of Lurgan but is now residing and working in Belfast, holds a PhD from the University of Liverpool.

McAtasney has previously written the highly acclaimed biography of Sean MacDiarmada, another signatory of the Proclamation. He has also penned extensively on the famine in Armagh, Belfast and Leitrim.

The author has researched his new book thoroughly in many parts of Ireland including Dungannon, Limerick and Dublin and has also visited America and London on many occasions.

The book covers Clarke’s early life in Dungannon, his fifteen years in jail in England, his new life in America and his return to Dublin and the build-up to the Rising in 1916.

It also contains over a hundred letters written by Clarke, above, mostly to his wife, Kathleen. The letters show us the human side of a man known chiefly for his planning of the Rising in 1916.

Tom Clarke, although born on the Isle of Wight always looked on Dungannon as his home having lived there for about sixteen years before going to America in 1880 with his friend and IRB colleague Willie John Kelly.

In 1882 Clarke, under the pseudonym Henry Hammond Wilson, was found guilty of treason in London and sentenced to life in prison with hard labour.

The book, with the use of extracts from Clarkes own writings and from information gathered in the National Archives in London, paints a very graphic picture of the torture and victimisation suffered by Clarke in prison.

In 1892 residents of Dungannon signed a petition calling for his release. What is remarkable about the petition is the fact that most of the signatories are Protestant and Unionist.

Those who signed included ministers of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church in the town and the Town Commissioners and the local gentry.

On his release from prison in 1898 Clarke received a huge welcome in Dungannon with a torch light procession round the town and followed by a meeting in the Forresters Hall on the Donaghmore Road.

It is anticipated that a large crowd will attend the launch of this new book on January 31.

This is a wonderful chance for Dungannon and Tyrone to show its support and appreciation for the life of Tom Clarke.

Special speaker for the night is local man Bertie Foley, pictured above, a grandson of one of Clarke’s oldest friends, Willie John Kelly. Bertie has a keen interest in local history and has always been interested in the life of Clarke.

It should be a very interesting and historic night.

Tom Clarke - Life Liberty Revolution is written by Gerard McAtasney and published by Merrion Press.