Kathleen Clarke (née Daly), a founder member of Cumann na mBan, and one of very few privy to the plans of the Easter Rising in 1916, is born in Limerick, County Limerick on April 11, 1878. She is the wife of Tom Clarke and sister of Edward “Ned” Daly, both of whom are executed for their part in the Rising. She is subsequently a Teachta Dála (TD) and senator with both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, and the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin (1939–41).
Kathleen Daly is born into a prominent Fenian family, the third daughter of Edward and Catherine Daly. Her paternal uncle, John Daly, is at the time imprisoned for his political activities in Chatham and Portland Prisons in England. He is released in 1896 and returns home to Limerick. When Tom Clarke, who had been imprisoned with her uncle, is released in 1898 he travels to Limerick to receive the Freedom of the City and stays with the Daly family.
In 1901 Daly decides to emigrate to the United States to join Tom, who had been there since 1900, having secured work through his Fenian contacts. They marry on July 16, 1901 in New York City. Through his contacts in the Clan na Gael and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Tom Clarke continues to be involved in nationalist activity. Kathleen joins the Gaelic League while in the United States and they return to Ireland in November 1907.
In 1914 Clarke becomes a founder member of Cumann na mBan. Her husband forbids her permission to take an active part in the 1916 Easter Rising as she has orders regardless of how the events pan out. As Tom Clarke is the first signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic he is chosen to be executed for his part in the Easter Rising. Her younger brother, Ned Daly, is also executed for taking part in the rising. She visits both of them before they are executed. After the Rising, Michael Collins establishes contact with her while in prison in his attempts to re-build the IRB network. She also sets up the Irish National Aid Fund to aid those who had family members killed or imprisoned as a result of the Easter Rising, closely aided by Sorcha MacMahon.
Clarke becomes a member of Sinn Féin and in 1917 is elected a member of the party’s Executive. During the German Plot she is arrested and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for eleven months. During the Irish War of Independence she serves as a District Judge on the Republican Courts in Dublin. In 1919 she is elected as an Alderman for the Wood Quay and Mountjoy Wards of Dublin Corporation and serves until the Corporation is abolished in 1925.
Clarke is elected unopposed as a Sinn Féin TD to the Second Dáil at the 1921 elections for the Dublin Mid constituency. She is not re-elected at the 1922 general election, however, and supports the Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. In 1926 she becomes a founder member of Fianna Fáil and has to resign from Cumann na mBan. She is re-elected to the short-lived 5th Dáil at the June 1927 election as a Fianna Fáil member for the Dublin Mid constituency but loses her seat at the September 1927 election and does not regain it. She is elected as one of six Fianna Fáil Senators to the Free State Seanad for nine years at the 1928 Seanad election under the leadership of Joseph Connolly. She remains a member of the Seanad until it is abolished in 1936.
In 1930 Clarke is elected to the re-constituted Dublin Corporation for Fianna Fáil along with Robert Briscoe, Seán T. O’Kelly, Thomas Kelly and Oscar Traynor. She serves as the first Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor of Dublin as well as the first female Lord Mayor, from 1939 to 1941. She opposes the Constitution of Ireland as she feels that several of its sections would place women in a lower position that they had been afforded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. She is criticised by many in the Fianna Fáil organisation as a result and, while she resigns from the Thomas Clarke Cumann, she remains a member of the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle.
While Clarke does not support the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in England during World War II, she appeals for those sentenced to death by the Irish Government to be given clemency. Ultimately this leads to her breaking with the party completely after her term as Lord Mayor finishes in 1941. She declines to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1943 general election.
In 1966, as part of the celebrations of the Easter Rising, Clarke and other surviving relatives are awarded honorary doctorates of law by the National University of Ireland. Following her death in Dublin on September 29, 1972, she receives the rare honour of a state funeral. She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin.