With the formation of the Irish Volunteers, the revolutionary hopes of the IRB were given a major boost. For forty years the society had vainly tried to mobilise opinion and attract more than a few members. By the turn of the century, it had lost much of its sense of purpose, and its members seemed more concerned with the details of Dublin municipal politics than with the cause of Irish independence.
In December 1907, Thomas Clarke (1858–1916) was sent from the United States by the old Fenian John Devoy to revive the IRB. Clarke’s father was a member of the Church of Ireland and a soldier (he rose to the rank of sergeant) in the Royal Artillery. His mother was a Catholic, and although his parents’ marriage was Anglican, Clarke was baptised a Catholic at Parkhurst, Isle of Wight, where his father was serving when he was born. In 1880 he emigrated to the United States and joined Clan na Gael. Three years later he travelled to England to take part in an unsuccessful Fenian dynamite campaign against military and police installations. He was caught and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment. Upon his release he was made a freeman of the city of Limerick before returning to America in 1899. When he came back to Ireland in 1907, he was fanatical in his determination to launch another Irish rebellion using the IRB in conjunction with financial support from Clan na Gael.