Kathleen Daly Clarke – Leader, Heroine, Patriot

The Easter Rising, which led to the Republic of Ireland, was the work of Thomas J. Clarke, who returned to Ireland from his Manorville, Long Island farm, with his wife Kathleen, to re-organize the dormant Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).  Tom not only rebuilt the IRB, but organized the Irish Volunteers who would plan a rising;  Katty, as he affectionately called his wife, became President of Cumann na mBan, the Ladies Auxiliary to the Volunteers, and she organized the women.

Katty had come from a staunch Republican family, and was so zealous for the cause that just before the rising, she was chosen by the IRB to safeguard their assets and plans; to pass them on to one of her choice if the leaders were all arrested.  Such was their confidence in her ability, dedication, and discretion.  Katty memorized the names of all local leaders across the country to contact if the necessity arose, and New York was told that if anything happened, Clan na Gael were to communicate directly with her.  She was soon more knowledgeable than any one person in the entire IRB.

The rising, set for Easter Sunday, 1916, was surprisingly canceled by Volunteer Chief MacNeill, who panicked when Roger Casement was captured on Good Friday, trying to land arms in Kerry.  The IRB, knowing the British would now strike, rescheduled for the following day, praying that the rest of Ireland would rise when they heard the news – though they knew it would be too late to save them.  Katty knew all these plans; 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 Clarke and his compatriots led the IRB into Dublin and declared the independence of Ireland.  Terrible fighting commenced, and the British army was held at bay for a full week before the patriots were forced to surrender.  During that chaotic week, Katty remained at home preparing for the worst.  It came on Sunday when news of the surrender reached her.  Anxious for the safety of her husband and brother, Ned, she busied herself with plans to support the dependents of those who would be imprisoned.  On Tuesday, she was arrested.  The next day, she was taken to Kilmainham Jail to see her husband.  That was when she learned that the leaders were all sentenced to be shot the next day.  Tom told her that Ned – her brother whom 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 would 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, to her husband, without ever telling him that she was pregnant – for she knew that too would make death harder for him.

As she walked home she vowed to continue the struggle they had started.  With money entrusted to her by the IRB, she formed the Republican Prisoners Dependents Fund to look after the families of the imprisoned patriots.  Still grieving over her husband and brother and trying to comfort her broken hearted 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, who came to attend her, delivered what should have been the final blow; the baby she was carrying was dead!  She wanted to die, herself, and later, the Doctor told her that for some minutes, she did!  Her heart and vital signs had stopped, and she must have come back because God wasn’t through with her yet.  In truth, Ireland wasn’t through with her.  Katty remained frail for many years, but continued building a nationwide organization to administer dependent’s relief across Ireland.

By year’s end, the government began to release prisoners for lack of evidence.  Many, who had not been involved before,  had been interned without trial as a preventive measure, and spent six months in British Prison Camps with nothing to calm their rage but the hope of revenge.  Behind barbed wire, they drilled and trained for that day.  If they weren’t an army when they were arrested, they were when they were released.  All that was needed was an organization and a leader.  Katty Clarke provided that organization through her network of Prisoner’s Dependants Fund branches across the land; she also provided the leader when, after interviewing prospects for Secretary of the Fund, she chose a man who would carry on the struggle.  She gave him all the assets and intelligence entrusted to her by the IRB.  His name was Michael Collins and the rest is history.  Collins used the network of offices set up by Katty as recruiting offices to build a national force and began the War of Independence that fought England to the Treaty table in 1921 and the ultimate creation of the Republic of Ireland.  Katty had done her job; the gospel of freedom had been passed to a new congregation.

Through the War of Independence, into the years of the Irish Free State and to the creation of the Republic of Ireland, Mrs. Tom Clarke, as she preferred to be called, 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. Kattie Daly Clarke died on September 29, 1972 at the age of 94;. she received the rare honor of a state funeral.  Her full story is told in the book Patriot Woman.

It is no mistake to say, that 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 when she passed them to a new generation of patriots; her organization also gave Ireland another chance for freedom – the one that finally succeeded.  Her greatest regret however, was refusing to agree to a memorial in honor of her late husband.  At the time, she said that as long as there was one person still suffering as a result of the Rising, she would not sanction money being put into bricks and mortar.  Years later, reviewing the fact that not even one street in Dublin had been named for Thomas J Clarke, she lamented that position.

In 1987, New York’s Suffolk County Board of the AOH corrected that situation when they erected a memorial to Tom and Katty Clarke at their former homestead in Manorville, Long Island where a commemoration ceremony is held each year in memory of all those who fell for Irish freedom.

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