Glimpses of an Irish Felon's Prison Life, by Thomas J. Clarke

Glimpses of an Irish Felon's Prison Life, by Thomas J. Clarke

Glimpses of an Irish Felon's Prison Life, by Thomas J. Clarke, with an introduction by Saul Staniforth

Booklet published by Jolly George Press in 2010, 62 pages. A5 size Booklet (N3882)

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From the introduction: Tom Clarke was fifty nine years old when the British executed him in a courtyard of Kilmainham Jail, and for all of his adult life he had been involved in the struggle for Irish independence. He was born on the Isle of Wight in March 1857 to Irish parents, and when Tom was ten years old the family moved back to Ireland, settling in Dungannon in County Tyrone. It is thought that his involvement in the struggle for Irish independence began a few years later, and by his late teens he was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (The IRB). The IRB was a clandestine organisation founded in the late 1850’s with the sole aim of agitating for an independent and democratic republic in Ireland. .

The IRB can be viewed as the latest in a long line of organisations and groups fighting for Irish independence. In recent memory their had been the Irish Confederation and the failed rebellion of 1848, both of which sprang out of the Young Irelanders movement and divisions within that group. And going back even further their were the United Irishmen and the failed rebellions of 1798 and 1803. Therefore the movement that Tom Clarke joined as a teenager can be viewed as a continuation of the recent struggle thus far, a culmination of the development, learning and tradition of several decades of fighting and campaigning, which was itself rooted of course in several centuries of history.

In his early twenties Tom Clarke emigrated to the United States and got work in the construction industry. Their he learnt how to use explosives, and around the same time he joined Clan na Gael, a sister organisation to the IRB in Ireland, and itself a successor to the American Fenian Brotherhood. In 1883 Tom Clarke was sent to London, and although the details of his mission have never been uncovered, we can speculate that he was chosen for his skills and abilities, and as these included the use of explosives, it was perhaps to undertake a bombing of some kind. Whatever he was hoping to do he failed. Tom was arrested in London whilst using the alias Henry Wilson, and in May 1883 he was sentenced at the London Old Bailey to Penal Servitude for life. He was twenty-six years old. Tom served a total of fifteen years in various English prisons, and was finally released in 1898

Tom Clarke went on to become a leading figure in the struggle for Irish Independence, and was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. This booklet contains his account of the time he spent in British prisons between 1883 and 1898, and is full of fascinating memories, anecdotes and observations. It thus offers both an excellent insight into the British penal system in the late victorian period, as well as an important document in the history of the Irish struggle for freedom

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