She was born in April and he called her Kattie. That was the name Thomas J. Clarke had for Kathleen Daly, niece of John Daly, a fellow prisoner with whom he had been incarcerated for Fenian activities. Her father Edward, who died young, had also served time for his role in the Fenian Rising of 1867 and her baby brother Ned would become one of the executed 1916 leaders. She later became Tom’s wife and the guardian of the dreams and plans of a whole generation of Irish patriots. Kattie Daly Clarke was the critical link between the Easter Rising and the ultimate establishment of the Republic of Ireland.
She was born in Limerick on April 11, 1878. After her uncle John’s release from British prison in 1895, 17-year old Kathleen knew the man she would marry, although they had never met. She knew and admired him through her uncle’s letters and stories praising the courage, determination, and tenacity of his fellow prisoner, Tom Clarke. When Clarke was released three years later, he came to the Daly home in Limerick to recuperate. Little did her uncle realize the awe in which young Kathleen held his old friend who was 20 years older than she, until they announced their engagement. Tom left for New York in 1900 to secure a job, and in 1901, Kathleen joined him there. They married, and settled in the Bronx. A year later, they moved to Brooklyn, and eventually bought a farm in Manorville, Long Island.
When war between England and Germany seemed inevitable, Tom and other high-ranking members of Clan na Gael felt that Ireland’s day of liberation was at hand. Tom decided to return to Ireland and reorganize the inactive Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but Kattie objected. She remembered the frail and battered figure who had limped to her home in 1898, nearly dead from starvation and torture. She pleaded that he had done as much as any man could be expected to do for his country and reminded him that he was still a parolee, subject to arrest if the authorities even suspected what he was up to. Tom, reminded her of the premature death of her father, the torture endured by her uncle, and the grief imposed on her mother and grandmother by a cruel and reckless alien force in their homeland. In his own persuasive way, Tom had fanned the smoldering coals of Kathleen’s nationalist soul, and rekindled her passion for Ireland. Together, they sailed to Ireland, and into the pages of Irish history.
Kathleen’s strong nationalist sentiment made her invaluable to Tom’s re-organizing activities. As Tom re-organized the men of the IRB and formed the Irish Volunteers, Kattie joined Cumann na mBan – the ladies auxiliary to the Volunteers and organized the women. Together, they prepared an army of men and women to strike at Easter 1916 for Ireland’s freedom. Her patriotism, as well as that of her family, was well known to the IRB Supreme Council. As evidence of their confidence in her, Kathleen was chosen to safeguard the details of the entire Volunteer network with the names of all the leaders and subordinates throughout the country. She was also entrusted with the plans and assets of the organization with the instructions that if they were arrested after the rising, she was to pass them to an individual of her choosing who could organize a new generation of leaders and fulfill their dream of a free Ireland. Thus it was, that when the leaders were executed, their dream did not die with them. After the Rising, England rounded up and interned many of Ireland’s men of military age, whether they were members of the insurgents or not. On May first, Kattie was arrested. The next day, she was taken to Kilmainham Jail to see her husband. That was when she learned that he was sentenced to be shot the next day. Tom told her that Ned, the 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. 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 his death harder.
With contacts and 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, Kattie 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 had! 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. Kattie remained frail, but continued building her nationwide organization to administer dependent’s relief across Ireland, staffing them primarily with women of Cumann na mBan. These offices cared for the families of the men interned until they were released in December 1917 and then helped to settle returning prisoners – many of whom had not been active rebels when incarcerated, but who certainly were upon release. She interviewed many of the returning men and decided on the new leader. It was a historic decision when she turned over the organization’s files and assets to Michael Collins. Collins converted her network of Prisoners Dependant Relief offices to IRA recruiting offices for a new national liberation force and began the War of Independence that fought England back to the Treaty table in 1921 and led to the Irish Free State and the ultimate creation of the Republic of Ireland.
Through the years leading 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. In addition to being a loyal wife and mother, she had been prisoner, Judge, Deputy Minister, Senator, and became the first woman Lord Mayor in Irish history as Lord Mayor of Dublin. After her death at 94 in 1972, she received the rare honor of a state funeral. Remembered for her many deeds, she is perhaps best remembered for her statement to Cumann na mBan after the execution of her husband Thomas J. Clarke. She said, Without the efforts of the women of Cumann na mBan, the Rising would have been for nothing. She told them, Our men are nearly all in prison, some are dead, and it is up to us to carry on their work . . . Let us show our enemy what Irish women can do!
In 1987, New York’s Suffolk County Board of the AOH erected a memorial to Tom and Kattie 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.