Luby, Thomas Clarke (1822–1901), leading Fenian, journalist, and historian, was born 15 January 1822 in Dublin, son of James Luby (c.1800–c.1853), Church of Ireland minister and alumnus of TCD, and Catherine Mary Luby (née Maynell) (c.1796–1870), a devout catholic. His uncle Thomas Luby (qv) was regius professor of Greek and a fellow of TCD. His middle name, Clarke, was in honour of the man who educated his father and two uncles in Tipperary. Thomas Clarke Luby attended several boarding schools prior to his matriculation in 1839 in TCD, from which he graduated BA (1845). From 1845 to 1848 he studied law at the King's Inns, Dublin, and Gray's Inn, London. Although he had qualified for the Irish bar by 1848, Luby never practised law. Drawn to politics in his youth, he joined the Repeal Association of Daniel O'Connell (qv) and later became involved in the Young Ireland movement. Influenced greatly by the advanced nationalist ideas of Thomas Davis (qv) and Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) and others associated with the Nation, Luby rejected on practical grounds O'Connell's ban on the use of violence in all circumstances. In July 1848 Luby was involved in an unsuccessful attempt with fellow confederation members to seize the Dunshaughlin constabulary barracks and Navan town, Co. Meath. In 1849 he joined a conspiracy led by James Fintan Lalor (qv) to spark rebellion in Munster. In September, after an unsuccessful attempt to rouse peasants in the Cashel area, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned. In articles published in the Irishman newspaper in 1850, he called for independence from Britain and implementation of Lalor's peasant proprietorship programme for Ireland.
After a short sojourn in Australia, Luby returned to Ireland in October 1854 and served as sub-editor of a short-lived newspaper, the Tribune (3 Nov. 1855–9 Feb. 1856). Luby joined James Stephens (qv) on his 1856 Irish tour to assess the potential for a new conspiratorial republican organisation. On 17 March 1858 in Dublin, Stephens and Luby founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood as an oath-bound secret revolutionary society dedicated to establishing an independent Irish nation, and administered to each other the IRB oath, which Luby had drafted. Along with his contemporaries Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (qv), John Devoy (qv), and Charles J. Kickham (qv), Luby was convinced that Irish self-government could only be won by the argument of force, rather than the force of argument.
For the next six years Luby was a faithful lieutenant to Stephens, accompanying him to Paris in 1859 and on various recruiting missions around Ireland between 1861 and 1865. In 1861 he played a prominent role in ensuring that the oration at the funeral of Terence Bellew McManus (qv) would be delivered by an American Fenian rather than by Fr John Kenyon (qv), whose political views were more moderate. Meanwhile, in Dublin Luby gained many recruits among the clerks, shop assistants, and literate young men newly arrived in the city. Stephens sent Luby to America in early 1863 to strengthen the links with John O'Mahony (qv) and his American organisation, from which the ‘Fenian’ sobriquet for the IRB derives. From late February to early July, Luby travelled over 9,000 miles, making speeches and contacting Fenian supporters in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Although noted as a good orator, Luby was less successful in raising funds, returning from America with only £100.
In 1863, when Stephens established the Irish People newspaper to disseminate the republican message as well as provide badly needed funds, Luby became the registered owner and sub-editor of this unofficial Fenian organ. John O'Leary (qv) was the editor and Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa was the business manager. Over the paper's short life (28 November 1863–15 September 1865), Luby contributed more articles than any of his colleagues. According to John Devoy, Luby's uncompromising defence of a non-parliamentary programme and calls to the young men of Ireland to prepare themselves to fight for independence had a greater impact than O'Leary's prose. Luby himself attributed the growing support for the IRB by 1865 to the paper's influence. Following the government's suppression of the paper on 15 September 1865, Luby, O'Donovan Rossa, and Kickham were arrested and tried for treason-felony by a special commission headed by Judge William Keogh (qv). Luby's fate was sealed by the testimony of a government informant, Pierce Nagle, and by the ‘executive document’ found in his house by the police, in which Stephens had designated Luby as his successor as the head centre, should anything happen to him. Luby was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude. His speech from the dock was memorable for its strong assertion that priests should stay out of politics, and that the Irish people should not give up their consciences in secular matters to the clergy. Yet Luby was not hostile to catholicism: Devoy recalled hearing him saying ‘Hail Marys’ in Portland prison and believed he would proudly have embraced catholicism but for the anti-national attitudes of Cardinal Cullen (qv) and the majority of catholic bishops in the 1860s. After serving six years in Pentonville and Portland prisons, Luby, along with Devoy, O'Donovan Rossa, and O'Leary, was among thirty-three Fenians released on condition of exile on 12 January 1871 as a result of a successful amnesty agitation led by Issac Butt (qv).
In April 1871 Luby left for America, settled in New York city with his family, and never returned to Ireland. For the next decade he remained politically active, briefly joining O'Donovan Rossa's short-lived Irish Confederation and undertaking lecture tours with Thomas Francis Bourke (qv) to spread the Fenian message. On 5 October 1875 Luby delivered a stirring memorial oration on John Mitchel (qv) in Madison Square Garden, before the largest gathering of Irish in New York in a decade. In early 1876 he became secretary to the executive council of the newly organised Fenian Brotherhood, which was led by John O'Mahony as head centre. He served as a trustee of O'Donovan Rossa's Skirmishing Fund from spring 1877 and supported its conversion to the Irish National Fund the following year. He wrote the address, circulated throughout Irish America, explaining the goals of the newly organised fund. Like John Devoy, Luby joined Clan na Gael in expectation of significant American help for an Irish rebellion. Although he greeted Michael Davitt (qv) on his arrival in New York on 25 August 1878 and chaired Davitt's huge 23 September lecture at Cooper's Union, he withdrew his support from the New Departure arrangements worked out by Davitt and Devoy, once it was clear that back in Ireland the immediate priority was land agitation rather than revolution. His opposition was made clear in May 1880 in the Irish Democrat when he wrote: ‘I would once more appeal to my countrymen to hold in chronic distrust the delusion of parliamentary policy, to believe always that national independence can only be achieved in the old heroic fashion.’ He broke with Clan na Gael at this juncture and played no role in organising Irish-American support for Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and the Irish parliamentary party. However, when the home rule bill of 1886 was introduced at Westminster, in a private letter quoted in the Freeman's Journal on 7 June he gave it reluctant support, indicating that while the bill was not ‘my ideal ... we can't look a gift-horse too closely in the mouth’. He thought the future of Ireland ‘pretty safe’, and had ‘no objection to see the old hereditary international strife somehow honourably ended’.
One of the best educated and well read of Fenian activists, Luby made his living in New York as a journalist and lecturer. His published works include The life and times of Daniel O' Connell (nd), which focuses on the years up to 1829. In 1878 he published The lives and times of illustrious and representative Irishmen, a work of wide chronological range. In 1893 he co-authored, with Robert F. Walsh and Jeremiah C. Curtin (qv), The story of Ireland's struggle for self-government. He supplied his lifelong friend John O'Leary with a great deal of information when the latter was writing his Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, which was dedicated to Luby. Luby's own recollections appeared in serial form in the Irish Nation (30 Sept., 28 Oct., 30 Dec. 1882; 5 July, 11 Oct. 1884). A number of his unpublished plays are included among the Luby papers in the NLI.
On 23 September 1852 Luby married Letitia Frazier (d. 1903), a presbyterian and the daughter of John Frazier whose anti-English verse appeared in the Nation and the Irish Felon. Thomas Clarke Luby died in Jersey City, NJ, on 29 November 1901 and is buried in Bay View cemetery there. He was survived by three children: James, editor of the Jersey City News, John, a lieutenant in the US Navy, and Katherine, who subsequently gave his papers to the NLI.