Caitlín Bean Uí Chléirigh [Kathleen, Mrs Clarke] Widow of Thomas Clarke - Mother, Entrepreneur, Politician and All Around Woman of Principle

-The following article will give many facts and details of this extraordinary woman, who, without much formal education, rose to the top of the most higher echelons of power in a Political Institution, in an era when women were supposed to be ‘seen but not heard’..She lived for fifty years after the execution of her husband Thomas Clarke for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, raising three children as a single mother. This was not an easy task in this era, raising children with all that it entails, nor was it easy for a woman to sacrifice her life for her country’s cause. Her husband and brother had already given their lives for their country, so it would have been easy for Kathleen to stop and say, enough is enough, my husband and brother have given their lives, I have miscarried my baby too. But no, she did not say that carrying her grief with dignity, she instead set out on a path that would lead her to her having a much more important and positive role in an Irish  Government that her husband had only ever dreamed about. That he would have been very proud of her I have no doubt; that her children and grand-children were proud of her I have no doubt. Her sacrifices and those of her women colleagues are what made Ireland the place that it is today, standing proud among the nations of the world. 

Kathleen Clarke [nee Daly] was born in Limerick in 1878 to Edward and Catherine Daly, the third girl in a family of ten children. Her brother Ned Daly (right) was the only son of this family [executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. see the article on the THWGWW]. The family was steeped in the traditions of Fenianism, just like the other generations of Daly’s throughout their lives. Her paternal uncle John Daly was the Mayor of Limerick, and at one point he was imprisoned for his political activities and was sent to Chatham and Portland Prisons in England. This is where he met and made a lifelong friend of Thomas Clarke, who had also been imprisoned for his political activities [Clarke was imprisoned for treason]. Daly was released in 1896 and issued an invitation to Clarke to come and visit when he was released. Clarke took him up on this invitation and in 1898, he headed off to Limerick to catch up with Daly and ended up living with him and his family. When Clarke arrived in Limerick, he was surprised to learn that Daly had initiated the honour of bestowing on Clarke ‘the Freedom of the City’. This is how Kathleen came to meet her future husband who was twenty-two then, and Clarke was twenty years older than her. He was to her the embodiment of a heroic Irishman.

Kathleen had been apprenticed to a drapery business and had by this time started her own drapery business, so even at this early age, she was a gifted businesswoman. Thomas had emigrated to America in 1900 and had written to her besieging her to come to America. So she ceased her business in early 1901 and traveled to America to be with Clarke. On the 16th July 1901, they were married in New York. They lived in the Bronx and Brooklyn area of New York, and the couple had three sons - John Daly Clarke (1902), Tom Junior (1908), and Emmet (910). Kathleen was pregnant with her fourth child when her husband Thomas and brother Ned Day were executed for their role in the 1916 Easter Rising. She miscarried this baby, due to the trauma and stress of the executions. Thomas Clarke had not known that his wife was pregnant again, even when she went to visit both her husband and brother, she did not tell him she was expecting before they were executed.  

Kathleen joined the Gaelic League in New York, while her husband continued his involvement in all the Irish Nationalist activities, and eked out a living doing this work. By 1907, both of them were very homesick for Ireland, so they made the decision to return to Ireland.

On their return to Ireland, they remained in Dublin, where the heart of the Republicans was based. They opened a tobacconist shop, initially at 75A Parnell Street, Dublin, and then at 77 Amiens Street, Dublin as the business grew; Kathleen as the businesswoman, while her husband steeped himself in the republican movement. Kathleen also involved herself in the Gaelic League in Ireland.

Always keen to support her husband’s Irish commitment, she was aware of the interest he had in the formation of the Irish Volunteers and the Citizens Army 1913, but neither she nor Clarke was active in these organizations, due in part because Clarke was a felon and an Irish Nationalist, not least that his name would certainly lend discredit to the Volunteers. Always on hand however to offer support for any charitable cause, she did offer her support to feed the children of the strikers.

By 1914, Kathleen was one of the founding members and a leading light of Cumann na mBan (below-right) and participated in all drills of an Army nature to train for warfare activities over the next two years.  Although she did not take part in the Easter Rising, she was one of the only women who were privy to any of the secrets of the Privy Council inner sanctum of the Irish Republican Army. She had been selected to coordinate the distribution of support for the families of the activists. 

In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, although bereft from the trauma and stress, not only of her husband and her brother's executions, she was also dealing with the trauma of her miscarriage. A strong woman with a very strong character, she did not allow her personal grief to deter her from carrying out what both she and her husband had set out to do. Having had a few days rest, she continued with the work of the distribution of food to all those families that needed it. This was vital work in her eyes as this was not only supporting the families, it was also establishing a network of sympathizers in the coming years… She had been taught well by her husband!

In 1917 when Michael Collins was released from prison in England,  Kathleen handed over to him all of the documents that had belonged to the Irish Republicans as she was of the opinion that he was a safe pair of hands. She also became a member of Sinn Féin that year and was elected as a member of the party's Executive. Due to this, in 1918 she was arrested and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for eleven months [family and friends took over the care of her children] due to a conspiracy alleged between Sinn Féin and the German Empire, by Dublin Castle. She survived this, came back to Ireland, and was duly elected as an Alderman in 1919 for the Wood Quay and Mountjoy Wards of Dublin Corporation until it was abolished in 1927. She was also very active in the White Cross by 1920  [the forerunner to The Red Cross]. It was a non-political organization set up to support the family of the Volunteers.

During the War Of Independence, she served as a District Justice for the North City Circuit in the Sinn Féin Republican Courts. Not content to just sit on a Justice bench, she was also a Chairman of the Judges. On this circuit, she was an active fund-raiser and sheltered men and women who were on the run during the Guerrilla War of 1919-1921. Although Kathleen was opposed to the Treaty, she was the chairperson of a committee that tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a pact between the warring factors of the Anti-Treaty and the Pro-Treaty. She was elected unopposed as a Sinn Féin candidate at the 1921 Elections for Dublin Mid constituency.

Kathleen spoke against the Anglo-Irish Treaty in the Dáil in debates of December 1921 and again in January 1922. She was arrested briefly during this period and imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail for a short time, and her business now on D’Olier Street was frequently raided like many other Anti-Treaty supporters businesses and homes. In the 1922 general elections, she lost her seat. In 1924 she traveled to the USA to fund-raise - as always she found it easy to raise money for Ireland's cause.

By this time, Kathleen had been having discussions with De Valera and had become one of the founding members of Fianna Fáil. She resigned from Cumann na Mban to concentrate all her efforts on the new political party. She was re-elected to the 5th Dáil but her jubilance was short-lived as she lost her seat again in the 1927 June election and did not regain it. Kathleen still pursued a political career, always wanting to be hands-on in Ireland’s best interests. In 1930 she was elected to the reconstituted Dublin Corporation for Fianna Fáil and also served on several other committees knowing her name would help in any recruitment or fund-raising.

Always outspoken, while she was a member of the Dáil, she opposed the constitution as she was of the opinion that women had been placed in a lower position than they had been afforded in the Proclamation of The Irish Republic. She also opposed the Conditions of Employment Bill in 1935 while still in the Seanad. Slanted by the Media for these opinions, she was criticized by many in The Fianna Fail organization and resigned from Cumann Thomáis Ui Dún Geanainn, an organization founded in 1917 to support the families of the Volunteers who were imprisoned - however she remained a member of Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle.

Kathleen was then duly elected as one of six Fianna Fáil Senators to the Free State Seanad and served in this post under the leadership of Joseph Connolly. She remained a member of this Seanad until it was abolished in 1936. When she was asked to run for Mayor of Dublin in 1939 - 1941, she was elated and thus not only became the first Mayor of Dublin but the first female Mayor, some fete for a woman in this era! As Mayor, she helped to found The Red Cross which is still in existence all over the world. Some sources would suggest that she was on record as saying that she did not support the bombing of England in World War II and that she also appealed for clemency for those sentenced to death by the Irish Government. Ultimately, her outspoken voice would lead to her breaking with the party she helped found, after her term as Mayor was completed. Principled as always, she declined to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1943 general elections.

After her role as Mayor, Kathleen then served on many hospital boards and the National Graves Society. In 1948 when she was 70 years of age, she stood for election for the Clann na Poblachta party but was unsuccessful.

In 1965, she left Ireland to live with her youngest son and his family in Liverpool. She did return to Dublin in 1966, for the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Easter Rising. She and other surviving relatives were awarded honorary doctorates of law by the National University of Ireland at a celebratory function. She died in Liverpool in 1972 at a nursing home, aged 94.

Fitting but not unsurprisingly –  for a woman who had given so much of herself to Ireland and all its causes, she was awarded the rare honour of a state funeral. Government Ministers on both sides of the house and other dignitaries attended her funeral along with family and friends, where accolades fell on her head posthumously. She is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery just outside Dublin. She preferred to be known as Caitlín Bean Uí Chléirigh [Kathleen, Mrs. Clarke] and this is the inscription on her headstone. Her great-niece Helen Litton edited her memoirs and her biography was published in 1991.





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