Historical Happenings for April 2019

Kathleen Daly Clarke

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Kathleen in 1900; photo courtesy of M. Buckley, Limerick

On 11 April 1878, a baby girl was born to Edward and Catherine Daly in Limerick. They named her Kathleen and she was the third daughter in a family of nine girls and one boy, Edward junior (Ned), who was born in 1890, five months after the death of his father. Edward senior and his brother, John, had been involved with the Fenian uprising of 1867 and had spent time in prison. At the time of Kathleen’s birth, her uncle John was serving time in Chatham and then Portland Prisons in England. Kathleen was 16 before her uncle 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 already 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 Dalys, 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, Kathleen followed him and they were 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 take 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, who told him that he’d already suffered enough for Ireland, reluctantly agreed to pull up the family’s roots and 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. When the time for the rising came, it was cancelled, but the leaders reissued the call since the Brits were already 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, 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 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 remained at home preparing 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 too would make his death harder.

Katty went home and vowed to continue the struggle they had started together. With the assets entrusted to her, she formed a nation-wide 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, 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 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, Ireland wasn’t through with her.

She remained frail, but continued building her nationwide organization to provide dependent’s relief across Ireland. By year’s end, the government began to release prisoners for lack of evidence.  Many who had not even been involved, had been interned without trial as a preventive measure; they spent 6-12 months in concentration camps with nothing to calm their rage but the hope of revenge. 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 Dependents Fund offices 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  all the assets and intelligence entrusted to her to Michael Collins; the rest is history!

Collins used the network of offices set up by Katty to recruit a new 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 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. Katty Daly Clarke 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. 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 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. The nearby AOH Tom Clarke Division and LAOH Kathleen Daly Clarke Division 8/9 play an important part in the ceremony.