Stories Behind The Rising: Sean McGarry And The Shooting Of Tom Clarke

The 1916 Societies continue with series of Easter Rising related pieces.

With the second of a planned series of short articles in the run-up to the Centenary on April 24th, the Thomas Clarke Society Dungannon tell the legendary story of Sean McGarry (pictured) and the accidental shooting of Tom Clarke.

Sean McGarry was one of Tom Clarke’s most trusted aides and accompanied his wife Kathleen to Liverpool in July 1915. There they met the widow and daughter of O’Donovan Rossa, to escort his mortal remains for his historic funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery on August 1st 1915.

The following year, Sean provided an armed guard over Tom on the eve of the 1916 Rising, for fear Dublin Castle would arrest leading members of the IRB. They fought side-by-side that Easter Week, with McGarry serving as ‘aide de camp’ to his trusted friend and comrade.

On May 2nd, the night before his execution, Tom Clarke wrote what would be his final letter, to his close friend John Daly – the man who in 1880 had sworn Tom and Billy Kelly into the IRB. In the letter he told how ‘Sean MacDiarmada and Sean McGarry are with me. They are all hero’s, I am full of pride.’

Ironically, it was the actions of Sean McGarry on January 31st 1916 that almost led to the death of Tom Clarke, which had it happened would have changed the course of Irish history, given the central role Clarke would play in the eventual Rising less than three months later.

Sean had acquired a small pistol for Cumann na mBan member Sorcha McMahon. Just before midnight she met Sean and Tom Clarke on the Ballybough road. As he was handing her the pistol he began fooling around, pointing it at Tom who told him to stop. McGarry told him it wasn’t loaded, with the pistol pointed straight at his heart. Tom stepped to the side just as the gun went off, the bullet fortunately missing his vital organs and lodging in his right elbow.

For the next three months Clarke had to wear a sling and learn to shoot a revolver with his left hand. When Sean MacDiarmada, another key planner behind the Rising, heard what had happened he said to Kathleen Clarke, ‘do you realise if Tom had died all hope of a Rising would have been gone?’ On such subtle, often untold turns of fortune the history of our country is written.


  1. An article here on Seán McGarry and his role in the Howth Gun-running and later the Easter Rising:

  2. A follow-up article on Seán McGarry on his role in the War of Independence, his relationships with Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera, and his experiences in the Civil War: