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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

Thomas James ' Tom ' Clarke was born on the 11th March 1857. He was born on the Isle of Wight to James Vlarke from Carrigallen, Leitrim and his newly married bride Mary Palmer from Clogheen, Tipperary. His father was a soldier in the British Army based there. His father was transferred to South Africa when Thomas was one, the family moved with him. They did not return to Ireland until Tom was seven. He grew up in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. At 59 years of age he was the oldest of the Rising leaders to be executed. He was the second leader to be shot following the execution of Patrick Pearse. In a memorandum sent by General Maxwell to the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith the following description was provided for Thomas Clarke:

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This man was a signatory to the Declaration of Irish Independence. He was one of the most prominent leaders in the Sinn Fein movement in Dublin. He was present with the Rebels in the GPO, Sackville Street, where some of the heaviest fighting took place and was proved to have been in a position of authority there. On the 20th May 1885 under the name of Henry H Wilson, he was sentenced in London to Penal Servitude for life for treason felony and was released on licence on the 20th September 1898. He exercised a great influence over the young members of the organisation with which he was connected.

Members of the Court Martial sitting were Brigadier-General C.G Blackader ( President ) Lieutenan - Colonels G. German and W.J Kent.

To the charge of: ' Did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King, such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prjudicial to the Defence of the Realm and being done with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy. ' Thomas Clarke pleaded not guilty to the charge. The 1st witness was 2nd Lieutenant S.L King ( 12 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers ) who stated:

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Thomas MacDonagh

' This man was a M.A of the National University in Ireland and a tutor in English Literature in the University College, Dublin. He took an active part in the Sinn Fein movement since its inauguration and was a prominent officer and Director of Training. He was also a signatory to the Declaration of Irish Independence. he signed a document headed ' Army of the Irish Republic ' which set out the various ' commands ' and described himself there as ' Commandant General and member of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic. ' He wa sin command of the party of the rebels who occupied and held Jacob's Biscuit Factory from the neighbourhood of which the British troops were fired on and numerous casualties occured. '

Those present on the court-martial board were Brigadier-General Blackader ( President ) and Lieutenant-Colonels G. German and W.J Kent. Thomas MacDonagh faced the charge of: ' Did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King, such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the Defence of the Realm and being sone with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy. ' Thomas MacDonagh pleaded not guilty to the charge. The first witness was Major J.A Armstrong ( 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers ) who stated: ' i was present at St. Patrick's Park Dublin, on the 30th April 1916. there were British troops there and i saw them fired on. I was under fire myself. The shots came from the direction of Jacob's factory. There were several casualties among the British troops. At a later hour i saw the accused coming from the direction of Jacob's factory under a white flag. He made several journey's through our lines - at about 5pm he surrendered with over 100 others to General Carleton. He was acting as an officer when he surrendered. I made a list of the unarmed men and the accused was not on the list. he made a statement to me that he was a Commandant. He was subsequently sent under escort to Richmond Barracks '

Thomas MacDonagh then cross-examined the witness and asked him if he knew why he had come out of the building? Armstrong stated that he did not know that the accused had come out at the invitation of General Lowe. Also MacDonagh had told him that there was no point searching him as he had already destroyed any documents in his possession. Thomas MacDonagh did not call any witnesses in his defence but made the following statement. ' i did everything i could to assist the officer in the matter of surrender telling them where the arms and ammunition were after the surrender was decided upon. ' Thomas MacDonagh was guilty of the charge and sentenced to death. He went on to make the following speech to the court martial following the verdict.

' Gentlemen of the Court-martial. I choose to think that you have but done your duty, according to your lights, in sentencing me to death. I thank you for your courtesy. It would not be seemly for me to go to my doom without trying to express, however inadequately, my sense of the high honour i enjoy in being of those predestined in this generation to die for the cause of Irish freedom. You will, perhaps, understand this sentiment, for it is one to which an Imperial poet of a bygone age bore immortal testimony: ' Tis sweet and glorious to die for one's country. ' You would all be proud to die for Britain, your Imperial patron, and i am proud and happy to die for Ireland, my glorious Fatherland, ' ( A member of the Court ) : ' You speak of Britain as our Imperial patron. ' ( MacDonagh ): ' Yes, some of you are Irishmen. ' ( A member of the Court ) ' And what of your Imperial patron; what of Germany? ( MacDonagh ): Not if Germany had violated and despoiled my country and persisted in witholding her birthright of freedom. '
( President of the Court ): ' Better not interrupt the prisoner. ' ( The prisoner bowed ) ' There is not much left to say. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic has been adduced in evidence against me as one of the signatories; you think it already a dead and bueried latter, but it lives, it lives. From minds alight with Ireland's vivid intellect, it sprang; in hearts aflame with Ireland's mighty love it was conceived. Such documents do not die. The

British occupation of Ireland has never for more than one hundred years been compelled to confront in the field of fight a rising so formidable as that which overwhelming forces have for the moment succeeded in quelling. This rising did not result from accidental circumstances. ' At midnight the news was broken to MacDonagh that he would be shot at dawn. His wife was not able to get to him but his sister, a nun, found him in a ' dank, vile cell' lighted by the butt of a candle. he had already confessed by the time she arrived, had had Holy Communion, and had written to his wife. When his sister entered the cell and saw that there was no water, she asked the sentry. ' Will you give some water to wash in? ' The sentry acting under orders, refused. MacDonagh's sister then handed him a Rosary which belonged to their mother and he put it around his neck. ' I hope they will give me this when it is over, ' she said. ' Ah no, ' he said quietly, ' they will shoot it to bits. ' ( They did not - only four beads were shot away and the Rosary was eventually returned to his sister ) At Dawn on May 3rd 1916 Thomas MacDonagh was taken into the yard at Kilmainham Prison ans executed by firing squad. He was the third leader to be executed that morning.

James Stephens who wrote an eye witness account of that week back in 1916 who knew Thomas MacDonagh and some of the other leaders writes: But in my definition they were good men - men that is,

who willed no evil, and whose movements of body or brain were unselfish and healthy. No person living is the worse off for having known Thomas MacDonagh, and i, at least, have never heard MacDonagh speak unkindly or even harshly of anything that lived. It has been said that his lyrics were epical; in a measure it is true, and it is true in the same measure that his death was epical. It is not easy for him to die leaving behind two young children and a young wife, and the thought that his last moment must have been tormented by their memory is very painful. We are all fatalists when we strike against power, and i hope he put care from him as the soldiers marched him out. ' Thomas MacDonagh wrote his own epitaph:

 
  Epitaph: Thomas MacDonagh

  His songs were a little phrase
  Of eternal song
  Drowned in the harping of lays
  More loud and long.
  His dead was a single word
  Called out alone
  In a night where no echo stirred
  To laughter or moan.
  But his song's new soul shall shrill
  The loud harps dumb
  And his deed the echoes fill
  When the dawn is come.

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Thomas wrote his last letter to his family at midnight Tuesday 2nd May, just hours before his execution.

Midnight, Tuesday 2nd May 1916

I Thomas MacDonagh, having now heard the sentence of the court martial held on me today, declare that in all my acts - all the acts for which i have been arraigned, i have actuated by one motive only, the love of my country, the desire to make her a sovereign independent state. I still hope and pray that my acts may have for consummation her lasting freedom and happiness. I am to die at dawn 3.30am, 3rd May. I am ready to die, and thank God, that i die in such holy a cause. My country will reward my dust richly. On April 30th, i was astonished to receive a messenger from P.H Pearse, Commandant General of the Army of the Irish Republic, an order to surrender unconditionally to the British General. I did not obey the order as it came from a prisoner. I as then in supreme command of the Irish Army, consuted with my second in command and decided to confirm the order. I know that it would involve my death and the deaths of other leaders. I hoped that it would save many true men among our followers, good lives for Ireland. God grant that it has done so and God approve our deed. For myself i have no regret. The one bitterness that death has for me is the separation it brings from my beloved wife Muriel and my beloved children Donagh and Barbara. My country will then treat them as wards, i hope. I have deroted myself too much to National work and too little to the making of money to leave them a competence. God help them and support them, ad give them a happy and prosperous life. Never was there a better, truer, purer woman than my wife Muriel, or more adorable children than Don and Barbara. It breaks my heart

that i shall never see my children again, but i have not wept or murmured. I counted the cost of this and am ready tp pay it. Muriel has been sent for here. I do not know if she can come. She may not have no one to take the children while she is coming. If she does - My money affairs are in a bad way. I am insured for £200 in the New York Life Co, but have borrowed £101. I think i am insured in the Alliance Co, but have a bank debt for £80. That brings less than £120 from these sources, if they produce anything. In addition i have insured my two children for £100 each in Mutual Co of Australasia, payment of premiums to cease at my death, the money to be paid to the children at the age of twenty one. I ask my brother Joseph MacDonagh, and my good and constant friend David Houston to help my poor wife in these matters. My brother Joe, who came with me and stood by me all last week has been sent away from here, i do not know where to. He, if he can, will help my family too. God bless him and my other sisters and brothers. Assistance has been guaranteed from funds in the hands of Cumann na mBan and other funds to be collected in America by our fellow

countrymen there in provision for the dependents of those who fall in the fight. I appeal without shame to the persons who control these funds to assist my family. My wife and I have given all for Ireland. Ask my friend David Houston to see Mr W.G Lyon, publisher of my latest book, Literature in Ireland, and see that its publication may be useful for my wife and family. If Joseph Plunkett survives me and is a free man, i make him, with my wife, my literary executor. Otherwise my wife and David Houston will take charge of my writings. For the first time i pray that they may bring in some profit at last. My wife will want money from every source. Yesterday at my Court Martial in rebutting some trifling evidence, i made a statement as to the negotiations for surrender with General Lowe. On hearing it read after, it struck me that it might sound like an appeal. It was not such. I make no appeal, no recantation, no apology for my acts. In what i said i merely claimed that i act honourably and thoroughly in all that i set myself to do. My enemies have, in return, treated me in an unworthy manner. But that can pass. It is a great and glorious thing to die for Ireland and i can well forget all petty annoyances in the splendour of this.

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Thomas with his wife Muriel and their child Don

When my son Don was born i thought that to him and not to me would this be given. God has been kinder than i hoped. My son will have a great name. To my son Don, my darling little boy remember me kindly. Take my hope and purpose with my deed. For your sake and for the sake of your beloved mother and sister i would wish to live long, but you will recognise the thing that i have done and see this as a consequence. I still think that i done a great thing for Ireland, and with the defeat of her enemy, won the first step of her freedom. God bless you my son. My darling daughter Barbara, God bless you. I loved you more than ever as a child has been loved.

My dearest love, Buriel, thank you a million times, for all you have been to me. I have only one trouble in leaving life - leaving you so. Be sure, Darling, God will assist and bless you. Goodbye. Kiss my darlings for me. I send you the few things i have saved out of this war. Goodbye my love, till we meet in heaven. I have a sure faith in our union there. I kisss this paper that goes to you. I have just heard that they have not been able to reach you. Perhaps it is better so. Yet Father Aloysious is going to make another effort to do something. God help and sustain you, my love. But for your suffereing this would be all joy and glory.

  Your Loving Husband
  Thomas MacDonagh.
  I return the darling's photographs
  Goodbye my love

Between 3.30 and 4am on May 3rd Thomas MacDonagh was taken into the Stonebreakers yard at Kilmainham prison and executed by firing squad. He was 38 years of age. His body was removed and buried at Arbour Hill cemetary.