Clear, Thomas (1911–94), forester, was born on 22 December 1911 at 50 Main Street, Portlaoise, the son of Thomas Clear, a carpenter, and Lizzie Clear (née Scott). Educated at a local secondary school in Portlaoise, he obtained a county council scholarship in 1930 to study agriculture at UCD; the following year he changed to forestry and in 1935 graduated with first-class honours. As an undergraduate he gained experience of different forestry practices by working in state forests in Wicklow and Tipperary and, in his final year, when he spent four months in Sweden with Swedish forestry students, learning about forestry surveying, inventory, and engineering. Also in his final year he won a travelling scholarship enabling him to undertake postgraduate studies on the continent.
On the recommendation of Dr Otto Reinhardt, the director of the Irish Forest Service, Clear opted for study at the world-renowned Prussian Forstliche Hochschule at Eberswalde, some 100 km east of Berlin. This experience was to have a lasting effect on him, moulding his opinions of sylvacultural theory and practice; through him, it also had an effect on the development of Irish forestry and the training of future generations of Irish foresters. At Eberswalde he was tutored by Dr W. Wittich, one of the most highly regarded forest scientists of the time, and a cousin of Reinhardt. During vacations Clear travelled to Bavaria, Baden, Hessen, Saxony, and Thuringia as well as in Prussia, learning more about forest management practice in those states. He enjoyed his time in Germany, learning the language as well as woodcraft and rifle marksmanship, prerequisite qualifications for forest officers in Germany at the time, and developing an admiration of German organisation and culture which remained with him throughout his life.
After returning to Ireland in 1937, Clear was appointed an assistant district officer in the forest service section of the Department of Lands, based at Gort, Co. Galway. The following year he was offered a post as acting lecturer in forestry in the faculty of agriculture at UCD, which he accepted. There he carried out all the teaching for the forestry course. In 1944 he was elected statutory lecturer, and eventually in 1959 became professor of forestry, a position he held until his retirement in 1981. During this time he became the foremost forestry academic in the country, adapting his European experience to Irish conditions and promoting the North American conifer, Sitka spruce, as a timber capable of satisfying Ireland's constructional timber needs and sylvacultural conditions. He was vindicated in the latter by the ability of Sitka both to flourish in the challenging Irish conditions and to supply the requirements for constructional timber, as sawn wood and, latterly, in composites.
Although his early training on the continent was in classical mid-European forest management, Clear realised that a different approach was required for Irish forestry plantations. With the cooperation of private forest owners, he advocated and introduced sylvacultural methods which suited the Irish situation, where the majority of sites were exposed to strong winds and the soils were very wet. The size and location of Irish plantations also allowed for clear-felling as a method of harvest, which was not viable on the continent. During the early 1950s Clear came into conflict with government policy on afforestation when he challenged the view that forestry should be undertaken without believing it could be profitable. In an article in the Irish Times in December 1951, he stated that such a policy would lead to forestry never being anything more than a relief scheme. The issue became a cause célèbre in the mid 1950s. He declared: ‘The difference between the profitability of afforestation with softwoods on good forest land and on poor forest land [is] remarkably large’ and he asserted ‘the incapacity of poorest western blanket bog, even though ploughed and manured, to merit consideration even if available at no cost’ (Neeson, 211). He advocated private forestry as an alternative to uneconomic ‘social’ forestry, and he believed only the state could afford to plant broadleaved trees, in view of the long rotations and dubious financial returns.
As a teacher, Clear was a strong advocate of field experience for forestry students, believing that the essential land-use principles of the subject could not be taught in lecture halls. During the period 1939–45 these field trips for final-year students were restricted to Ireland, and frequently involved Clear leading them in feats of considerable physical endurance. One trip in 1945 involved a day's field work on the Galtee mountains in Co. Tipperary, followed by a cycle ride from Cashel to Portlaoise. After the war he led trips further afield, to Germany and the Nordic countries.
A founder member of the Society of Irish Foresters (1943), Clear was secretary and treasurer for seventeen years (1943–60), and then president (1961–8), finally being made an honorary life member. He contributed twenty-six articles to the society's publication Irish Forestry, mostly reviews of government documents relating to forestry policy, but also articles on forest pathology, forestry abroad, and forestry practice. Through the society he maintained close links between the academic aspects of forestry and professional foresters and woodland owners. Together with Séan O'Sullivan (a forestry student who had influenced his change in career in his first year at UCD), O. V. Mooney, Martin Feehan, and Douglas Walsh, Clear was a guiding light in the formation of what ultimately became the state forestry organisation Coillte (1989). He remained closely associated with the state forestry service as advisor and lecturer, and he had considerable influence on national forestry development. He produced reports for government and state agencies on forests from all parts of the country and in return had access to state forestry facilities for training his students.
An effective administrator, Clear served two terms as dean in the faculty of general agriculture (1968–74), during which time he established a framework for the revision of curricula in the faculty. As dean, he strongly advocated the location of the new agriculture faculty building on the Belfield campus. Until this time the faculty had been housed in the former Albert College buildings at Glasnevin.
While he was interested in reading, current affairs, and travel, Clear was so involved in forestry that he had very little time left for other activities. After he retired he developed an interest in gardening. He married Kathleen Mitten of Wexford (1938) and they had nine children – seven boys and two girls. Clear died 12 December 1994, ten days short of his eighty-third birthday.