Clarke, Desmond (1907–79), librarian, historian, and writer, was born 2 July 1907 in Dublin, eldest son of John Clarke and Marcella Clarke (née Shaw). His entire career was with the RDS library, which he joined as an assistant in 1925. In 1944 he was appointed chief librarian, remaining in the position till retirement (1974), by which time he had played a major role in developing the society's new library. A fellow, and later president, of the Library Association of Ireland, he was the dominant modernising force in that organisation, and was also vice-chairman of the National Library of Ireland Society and a member of the Hospital Library Council. He was secretary of the RDS Science and General Purposes Committee (1962–74), secretary of Irish PEN (1965–75), and a fellow of the International Association, Ireland.
Clarke was a prodigious writer of short stories, biographies, histories, bibliographies, and reviews, and an editor of several books. Among his published works are Thomas Prior, 1681–1751 (1951), Bookbinding in Ireland (1955) (with Thomas P. O'Neill (qv)), Arthur Dobbs, esquire, 1689–1765 (1958), The unfortunate husbandman (1964), The ingenious Mr Edgeworth (1965), A bibliography of the publications of the Royal Dublin Society (1972), Three stories (1973), Dublin (1977), and Louison: the life and loves of Marie-Louise O'Morphi (1979). He completed the second part of Ireland in fiction: a guide to Irish novels, tales, romances and folklore (1985), the first part of which had been compiled by Stephen Brown (qv). His numerous short stories appeared in anthologies, journals, newspapers, and literary magazines. The books he edited include The changing face of Irish literature (1971) and (with James Meenan (qv)) RDS: the Royal Dublin Society 1731–1981 (1981). He also edited Catholic Mind (1932–4), An Leabharlann (1952–64), and Unesco Publications (Ireland) Review (1962–4).
On his retirement, his colleagues presented him with a likeness cast in bronze by Marjorie Fitzgibbon, now in the RDS library. He retired to a small farm in Fauleens, Newport, Co. Mayo, although retaining a house at Merrion View Avenue in Dublin, and spent much of his time writing, walking and fishing. Clarke died suddenly on 25 May 1979. He married Sheila Cosgrove of Granard, Co. Longford; they had one son and one daughter.