RIC Constable Alexander Clarke
RIC Constable Alexander Clarke (aged 52) from County Tipperary (Townsend Street, Skibbereen)
Date of incident: 11 July 1921 (killed as intelligence operative by IRA)
Sources: CE, 12 July, 17 Oct. 1921; FJ, 12 July 1921; II, 12 July 1921; CCE, 16 July 1921; CWN, 16 July 1921; SS, 15 Oct. 1921; Military Inquest, WO 35/147A/69 (TNA); Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police (CO 904/148-50, TNA); Cornelius Connolly’s WS 602 (BMH); Abbott (2000), 266; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014); Ó Ruairc (2016), 147-51.
Note: The long-serving Constable Clarke ‘was shot dead by four men when he was going to his lodgings in Townsend Street’ in Skibbereen on the morning of the day that the Truce was declared (it came into operation at noon). He was an important British intelligence operative with thirty-four years’ service in the RIC, ‘most of which he spent in this district [of Skibbereen]’. See CE, 12 July 1921.
According to prominent West Cork IRA leader Cornelius (Neilus) Connolly, Clarke ‘was chief intelligence man to the British and was very much wanted by us. Tadhg O’Sullivan and myself were on this job, and I think these were the last shots fired in Skibbereen before the Truce’. (Connolly became commandant of the Skibbereen Battalion in February 1921 after serving as vice-commandant.) See Cornelius Connolly’s WS 602, 2 (BMH).
Connolly, O’Sullivan, and two other IRA gunmen had trouble in carrying out this killing. Wounded in the face by one of the Volunteers, Clarke fled into the Townsend Street shop of Mrs Ada Coffey, who witnessed the grim final scene: ‘I heard a noise outside my shop and thought my window had been broken. I then ran from the kitchen into the shop. I then saw a policeman in uniform stagger into the shop from the street. A man was close behind with a smoking revolver in his hand; he fired 3 shots at the constable in my presence; the constable then staggered into the inner room & collapsed; the man with the revolver put the revolver back in his pocket and ran out of the shop.’ See Ó Ruairc (2016), 149.
The gunmen made a hurried escape; the RIC barracks was only a short distance away. Though the advent of the Truce may been been the catalyst for this assassination, the IRA in Skibbereen, as Ó Ruairc has maintained, no doubt was motivated more by Clarke’s activities over the previous two years. A native of North Tipperary, Clarke had joined the RIC in 1887 at the age of 18. Also members of the RIC were his father William and his brother Samuel. Alexander Clarke left a wife and six children. See Ó Ruairc (2016), 147-51.
By 1921 he had been stationed in Skibbereen for more then twenty-five years; he had lived at 100 Main Street in Schull at the time of the 1901 census. At the Skibbereen quarter sessions in October 1921 the victim’s widow Mary Clarke was awarded £3,500 for the death of Constable Clarke in the previous July; she had submitted a claim for £10,000. See SS, 15 Oct. 1921.