On April 11, 1878, a baby girl was born to Edward and Catherine Daly in Limerick. They named her Kathleen; she was the third daughter in a family of nine girls and one boy. The boy, Edward junior (Ned), was born in 1890, five months after the death of his father, and his 12-year old sister helped raise her baby brother. Kathleen’s father and his brother, John, had been involved in the Fenian uprising of 1867 and had spent time in British Prisons. Kathleen was 16-years-old when her uncle John was released and returned home. His stories about his imprisonment included his admiration for a fellow prisoner named Tom Clarke who was defiantly courageous despite torturous treatment. When Tom was released in 1898, he was invited by John Daly to recuperate with his family in Limerick. Little did Tom realize that he had an ardent admirer in the person of John’s niece, Kathleen. Already intensely nationalist, Kathleen admired Tom’s devotion to Ireland and during his time with the Daly family, Tom and Kathleen fell in love. Tom left for New York in 1899 and began working with John Devoy, Gaelic-American newspaper publisher and head of the revolutionary Clan na Gael. As planned, she followed him and they married in 1901 and settled in Brooklyn. They later relocated to Manorville, Long Island.
As war clouds darkened the skies over Europe, Tom knew that England would soon be involved and he saw the chance to heed John Mitchel’s advice that ‘Ireland’s opportunity was when England was in difficulty.' He decided to return to Ireland with Devoy’s blessing and rejuvenate the dormant IRB for a rising. Kathleen, tried to talk him out of it noting that he’d already suffered enough for Ireland, but Tom reminded her of her own family’s suffering at the hands of the Brits and she reluctantly agreed to join her life-long hero in another attempt to free their native land. It is fortunate that she did for she would become the most significant women in Irish history.
Tom rebuilt the IRB, influenced the Irish Volunteers, and planned the Easter Rising. Katty, as he affectionately called his wife, co-founded and became President of Cumann na mBan, the Ladies Auxiliary to the Volunteers. As Tom organized the men, Katty organized the women. Before the day set for the rising, it was canceled, but the leaders reissued the call to rise the following day; since the Brits were planning to arrest them all, the blow had to be struck! Realizing that they might fail and be imprisoned, they needed someone trustworthy to safeguard their assets, contacts, and membership lists with the instruction to pass them on to a new leader who would carry on the fight. They chose Kathleen! The New York Clan na Gael, was notified that if anything happened to them, they were to communicate directly with her. She memorized the names of all local leaders across the country to contact if necessary and was soon the most knowledgeable person in the entire IRB. One lady later wrote, I felt so sorry for Mrs. Clarke; she suffered more than anyone because she knew in advance what she was going to lose in 1916.
On Easter Monday, Tom and his compatriots declared Irish independence and terrible fighting commenced. The British army was held at bay for six full days. During that chaotic week, Katty prepared for the worst. It came on Sunday with news of the surrender. Anxious for the safety of her husband and brother, Ned Daly, she busied herself with plans to support the dependents of those who would be imprisoned. On Wednesday, she was taken to Kilmainham Jail to see her husband. That was when she learned that the leaders were all to be executed and Tom told her that Ned, the brother she had raised from birth, would die with him. Her grief was more than most people know in a lifetime, but she would not let it show lest it make Tom’s end harder. She listened quietly as he assured her that freedom would come as a result of their sacrifice. For the rest of her life, she could recall every detail of that meeting as she concentrated on not breaking down. Then, she left the man who had grown from her childhood hero, to her closest friend, and to her husband, without ever telling him that she was pregnant for she knew that would make his death harder.
Katty went home to continue the struggle they had started together. With the assets entrusted to her, she formed a nationwide network of Republican Prisoners Dependents Fund offices to look after the families of the imprisoned patriots. Still grieving and trying to comfort her mother, Katty worked day and night traveling between Dublin and Limerick, despite her Doctor's advice to slow down. A few weeks after the rising, she awoke in pain. The Doctor delivered what should have been the final blow; the baby she was carrying was dead! She wanted to die herself and the Doctor told her that for some minutes, she had! Her heart and vital signs had stopped, but he said she came back because God obviously wasn’t through with her yet.
In truth, neither was Ireland. Katty remained frail but continued building her nationwide organization to provide dependent relief across Ireland. By year's end, public pressure forced the government to release some prisoners. Many who were not even involved had been interned without trial as a preventive measure. If they weren't an army when they were arrested, after spending months in concentration camps with nothing to calm their rage but the hope of revenge, they certainly were an army when released. All that was needed was an organization and a leader. Katty Clarke provided that organization through her network of Prisoner’s Dependents Fund offices across Ireland. She also provided the leader when, after interviewing prospects for Secretary of the Fund, she chose a man who would carry on the struggle. All the assets and intelligence entrusted to her, she gave to Michael Collins -- the rest is history!
Collins used Katty’s list of contacts and network of offices to recruit a new national force and began the War of Independence that fought England to the Treaty table in 1921 and led to the ultimate creation of the Republic of Ireland. Katty had done her job; the gospel of freedom had been passed to a new and ultimately more successful congregation. Through the War of Independence, into the years of the Irish Free State, and into the Republic of Ireland, Katty served her country as no other woman had. She had been wife, mother, prisoner, and then Judge, Deputy Minister, Senator, and the first woman Lord Mayor in Irish history when she was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. Well versed in history, her first action as Lord Mayor was to reject the Lord Mayor's chain because it had been presented to the city by William of Orange! An Irish-made chain was hastily produced. Kathleen joined Tom on September 29, 1972 at age 94. She received the rare honor of a state funeral. Her full story is told in the book, Revolutionary Woman.
Kathleen Daly Clarke was every bit as important to Ireland as each of the men of Easter Week; she gave their dreams a second chance. Her greatest regret, however, was refusing to agree to a memorial in honor of her late husband. She said that as long as one person suffered as a result of the Rising, she couldn’t see money being put into cement. Years later, realizing that not even one street in Dublin had been named for Thomas, she lamented that position. However, in 1987, New York’s Suffolk County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians corrected that situation when they erected a memorial to Tom and Kathleen Clarke at their former homestead in Manorville, Long Island where a commemoration ceremony is held each year on Low Sunday in memory of all those who fell for Irish freedom. The nearby AOH Tom Clarke Division 8 and LAOH Kathleen Daly Clarke Division 8/9 play an important part in that ceremony. -- Mike McCormack, AOH Historian