Clery, Arthur Edward (1879–1932), nationalist and author, was the only child of Art Ua Cléirigh, lawyer and amateur historian, and his wife Catherine Clery (née Moylan). During his boyhood his family suffered a crisis: his father went to the Indian bar to recoup family finances, his mother became a permanent invalid. Clery was brought up by a cousin, Charles Dawson, former lord mayor of Dublin. He was educated at the Marists' Catholic University School, Clongowes, and UCD, with the generation that included James Joyce (qv), Tom Kettle (qv), Hugh Kennedy (qv), and Francis (qv) and Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington (qv). He contributed to the student paper, St Stephen's, under his confirmation name ‘Chanel’ (from the Marist martyr St Pierre Chanel), his favourite pseudonym. He was a leading member of the Cui Bono, a dining club which bound together his university contemporaries into the 1930s. A paper he delivered to the Literary and Historical Society as auditor in 1899, arguing that Irish drama should be religious, provoked Joyce to eulogise Ibsen. Joyce's Stephen Hero satirises Clery as ‘Whelan, the college orator’.
In 1897 Clery joined the Gaelic League. From 1900 he was influenced by the D. P. Moran (qv) weekly, the Leader, which presented an aggressively catholic cultural nationalism as remedy for the problems facing young catholic professionals in a society dominated by vested interests, where it seemed advancement could only be gained by unacceptable political or religious compromises. From 1902, when he was called to the bar, Clery supplemented his fees by journalism, becoming a regular contributor to the Leader (as ‘Chanel’). He also wrote for the New Ireland Review as ‘Arthur Synan’. While doctrinally conservative and entertaining fantasies of aristocratic descent, he had a radical temperament deriving from resentment of protestant influence networks and opportunistic catholic ‘whigs’. He supported female suffrage and the abolition of corporal punishment, campaigned for extension of educational opportunities through university night classes and the Gaelic League, and was active in the Society of St Vincent de Paul and noted for personal charities.
In 1905 Clery published an article arguing that Ulster unionists were a distinct nation, entitled to self-determination where they were a majority. He upheld this position for the rest of his life, though he criticised the eventual boundary of Northern Ireland. Clery combined recognition that arguments used to support Irish self-determination also suggested partition, with fear that under home rule a large protestant minority, strengthened by disproportionate ‘safeguards’, might underpin undemocratic vested interests.
In 1907 Clery published (as ‘Chanel’) a selection of essays, The idea of a nation. In 1920 Dublin essays appeared under his own name. He also published (as ‘Arthur Synan’) a historical novel, The coming of the king (1909), and coauthored a guide to the health acts with Dublin doctor and politician J. C. McWalter (1908). Though a forceful public speaker, Clery was not successful at the bar. He was shy outside his circle of friends, led a relatively austere life, and never married. In 1912 he became part-time professor of law of property at UCD. He was kindly but remote, never failed a student, and dined his class at a Dublin restaurant once a year. John A. Costello (qv) was a protégé and friend.
Clery joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914, opposed Redmond's war policy, but took no part in the Easter rising. He defended Eoin MacNeill (qv) at his courtmartial in 1916; he also defended Austin Stack (qv), who became a lifelong friend. Clery campaigned for Sinn Féin in 1917–18, and the £200,000 capital of the Sinn Féin Land Bank was deposited under his name to protect it from seizure. He was one of only two barristers to participate in the Sinn Féin courts, and was appointed to the Sinn Féin supreme court by Stack in 1920.
Clery opposed the treaty, though maintaining personal friendships with some of its prominent supporters. After the suppression of the republican-dominated supreme court, he went as a republican envoy to the pope, and later acted as intermediary between de Valera (qv) and the papal nuncio, Mgr Luzio (qv). Clery refused to accept a judicial pension since he did not recognise the government; this caused some financial hardship, since as an ex-judge he held himself precluded from court work.
In June 1927 Clery became independent republican TD for the NUI, but stood down in August 1927 rather than take the oath of allegiance. He advised de Valera that the Free State was not legally bound to pay the land annuities, and helped Sinn Féin to redraft its constitution and programme for government. He was a founder of the Catholic Action group, An Ríoghacht; influenced by post-war conditions and the writings of Chesterton and Belloc, his anti-liberalism hardened into contempt for democracy as a self-serving middle-class sham, and dreams of a catholic civilisation instituting social justice on what he foolishly and idealistically imagined to be the principles of Mussolini and Lenin. His later years were despondent. Clery died in November 1932 from heart failure caused by pneumonia.