On this day in 1972 Ireland lost a valiant soldier in its continued quest for freedom. Mrs. Tom Clarke was how she preferred to be addressed in spite of being a staunch suffragist. She gave up her fight on September 29th at the ripe old age of 94, after living a life that would have sent anyone else to the grave much sooner.
Kathleen Daly and Tom Clarke were married against the wishes of her parents but with the blessing of her uncle who had been in prison with him. They married and lived in the United States – and could have chosen to stay here, helping their homeland from afar. Their rebellious natures would not allow them to remain so far away from the action and they were compelled to head back to Ireland. Tom was one of the signatories on the Proclamation and a leader of the Easter Rising while Kathleen was a rebel in her own right and his faithful partner in all things. She was one of the few privy to the details of the Rising before it began but was expressly forbidden to take part in it, because she had been put in charge of the inevitable aftermath and fallout. She has said on numerous occasions, that while she did not know what the outcome of the Rising would be, she did know that her family would not come through it whole. She did not lose her life in that fight, but her husband was executed after the Rising and soon after, she lost his child she was carrying.
Within a week of her beloved’s death, she had begun the IVDF, a foundation that would care for the widows and families of those who had fought in the rebellion. It was the task her husband had given her before the Rising and she threw herself into it wholeheartedly to manage her own grief. For the rest of her life, she was a driving force in many activist and political groups like the IVDF, Cumann na mBan, Fianna Fail and the Irish White Cross. She accomplished it all as a grieving widow and a single mother, which is almost impossible to fathom. She stayed true to her principles in every way, despite the fact they had cost her an unborn child, a husband, many members of her family – including her brother – and her freedom for long stretches of time.
She stood proudly at the 50th commemoration of the Rising. She was a stoic lady, keeping her emotions to herself. She did not even cry during the last meeting with her husband, as she did not want him to and as a result, a guard at the prison told her that Tom Clarke was one of the bravest men he had ever seen. She fiercely protected this reputation and mirrored it with her own bravery and unwavering loyalty to Ireland.
There is so much to say about this woman and her accomplishments. She is every bit as important in Irish history as the leaders of the Rising were. Without her work after the rebellion failed, many more lives would have been lost and the aid that she spent her life raising for both the Irish people and the political pursuit of a free Ireland would not have existed. Her life had many twists and turns and is an incredible array of activism and altruistic pursuits but today is not the day for her life. Today is the remembrance of her death.
It took 56 long years before she was able to join her husband in their afterlife. Both were known for their patriotism and rebellious spirits but their deaths could not have been more different. Tom Clarke was executed by the Crown and died at a much younger age. He was buried in a mass grave with the other leaders of the Rising. Kathleen spent the following decades so intertwined with the fate of Ireland that she was given the rare honor of a state funeral when she passed away. The streets were lined with thousands of people and the route driven by the car carrying her casket included the General Post Office on O’Connell Street in honor of Kathleen’s and her husband’s lifelong fight for a free Ireland. Her gravestone is inscribed with Chaitlin Ui Chleirigh, Baintreach, Tomáis S UÍ Cléirigh – making her wish of always being connected to her beloved husband come true. She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin.
Tom and Kathleen Clarke are still honored in America as well. There is a memorial to them that was erected at their former homestead in Manorville, Long Island. A commemoration ceremony is held there each year in memory of all those who have fallen in the pursuit of Irish freedom. Somehow, I am pretty sure that Mrs.Tom Clarke (and her husband too, for that matter) would approve.