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Tom and Kathleen Clarke and The 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland

Updated on September 11, 2020
viking305 profile image

L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

Kathleen Clarke and her children in 1916 after The Easter Rising
Kathleen Clarke and her children in 1916 after The Easter Rising | Source

The Story of Tom and Kathleen Clarke

Tom Clarke was one of the Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. His wife Kathleen was also active in the fight for Irish freedom. She was the founder member of the Cumann na mBan 1914. This was an organisation for women who wanted to get involved in fighting the British.

Easter Rising in Dublin

When the Rising failed and the Irish soldiers surrendered Tom Clarke was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Jail in Dublin Ireland. His body dumped in a mass grave at Arbour Hill Prison yard in Dublin Ireland.

This is their story and the sacrifices they made for the freedom of Ireland.

Tom Clarke and Family

He was fifty nine years old when he took his place at one of the windows of the GPO waiting for the British soldiers to attack as the Easter Rising started in 1916. He and his wife Kathleen had returned a few years earlier from America and opened a tobacconist in Dublin together.

The 1916 Easter Rising began in Dublin at noon on Bank Holiday Monday on 24 April. Britain had ruled Ireland for over seven hundred years. There had been other attempts of freedom in the past but they had failed. As the fighting began Tom Clarke noticed how many of the Irish soldiers were very young so he turned to two of the young lads who stood beside him. He said to them

‘I have Lived to See the Greatest Hour in Irish History.’

The fighting in the Irish Rising continued in the GPO and other garrisons around Dublin on Monday and Tuesday. During a lull in the fighting on Wednesday he went to see Jim Ryan in the make shift hospital upstairs in the GPO. Jim Ryan was a medical student and soon to qualify as a doctor.

Tom Clarke and the 1916 Easter Rising
Tom Clarke and the 1916 Easter Rising | Source

Torture in English Prisons

Tom Clarke told him he had been a Fenian since he was sixteen years old. He spoke to him of his time in America and the terrible years he endured in English prisons. He explained why the Easter Rising went ahead even though they knew there was not much hope of success.

Jim Ryan listened in silence for two hours. When Tom Clarke was finished he said to Jim, ' I suppose you know why I am telling you all this. It's because you're wearing the Red Cross Arm band. In the final bayonet charge, they may spare you. If they do, if you survive, I hope you'll try to make people understand the seven of us who signed the Proclamation.’


He chewed rags in his cell in order to survive. Tom Clarke was born at Hurst Castle, the Isle of Wight on March 11 1857. He spent the first ten years of his childhood in South Africa, and then he returned to Tyrone, Ireland with his family. His father was a retired British Officer and did not like Tom's activities in the fight for Irish freedom. His father eventually kicked him out of the house. Clarke went to America in 1882. Two years later he was in England and was arrested for his activities as an Irish Fenian. Feelings were running high against the Irish prisoners.

Torture in Prison

They were tortured with starvation and sleep deprivation and continued harassment. Many of them lost their minds and went mad. But Tom kept his sanity by copying the bible in shorthand, twice. He had been starved for forty days and was reduced to chewing rags in his cell. He was released under a general amnesty for Fenian prisoners in 1898 and returned to Ireland. Also with him in prison had been the Fenian leader John Daly.

Tom Visited John Daly in Limerick

There he met John Daly’s niece Kathleen Daly. He went to New York with Kathleen; they married and stayed in America for the next seven years. When they returned to Dublin they opened a tobacconist shop at the corner of Parnell Street and O'Connell Street. Tom and Kathleen became involved in making plans for the Easter Rising in 1916 with their shop being used as a meeting place.

Kathleen Clarke

Kathleen did not tell Tom that she was pregnant with their fourth child. Because of the treatment that Tom Clarke had received in prison in England his health was a concern. When the Proclamation of the Irish Republic had been written just before the 1916 Easter Rising and was ready for signing he was asked by the other signatories to be the first to do so. The leaders of the Easter Rising believed he deserved this honour.

His Court Martial was held in Richmond Barracks on Tuesday the 2 May. That evening he was transferred to Kilmainham Jail. He later heard he had received the death sentence.

Kathleen is Arrested

She had been arrested on 1st May and was a prisoner at Dublin Castle. When she was told she could visit him, she said to her cell mates ' I suppose they are going to shoot Tom.’ She arrived just after midnight and spent about an hour with her husband.

She did not tell him that she was pregnant with their fourth child. There was a soldier in the cell the whole time, holding a candle. Tom Clarke told his wife that he was relieved he was to be shot, he was glad it was to a soldiers death, he'd had enough of prison. He asked her to give this message

Message to the Irish People, 3rd May 1916.

‘I and my fellow signatories believe we have struck the first successful blow for Irish freedom. The next blow, which we have no doubt Ireland will strike, will win through.

In this belief, we die happy. '

Thomas J Clarke. Kilmainham Jail, 3rd May 1916.

Kathleen Clarke in 1924 and her part in the 1916 Easter Rising
Kathleen Clarke in 1924 and her part in the 1916 Easter Rising | Source

Kathleen Clarke Dies While Having a Miscarriage

Kathleen was not sent back to her cell, but released and went home. Soon after the Rising she became ill and had a miscarriage. She wanted to die herself and years later wrote about the near death experience she had. During the miscarriage the doctor and nurse were at her bedside when the room went dark blue. She knew it was the end and told the doctor goodbye. She heard the doctor say to the nurse that she had gone

Near Death Experience

Then she felt herself drifting through clouds until she could hear men's voices, including her brother Ned, Edward Daly who had also been executed after the Easter Rising. She saw her husband Tom and Sean McDermott. She heard Sean say ' She must go back, Tom, she must.' Tom said, ' God, Sean, we can't send her back, it is too cruel.'

Sean said, ' You know Tom, she must go back, she has to do the work that we left her to do.' They were both very sad. Then she was back in her bedroom, with the doctor and nurse standing over her.

Her Heart had Stopped

The doctor told her he was sure she was dead as her heart had stopped for a few minutes. Kathleen Clarke had been given the job, before the Rising, of looking after the dependents of the dead and imprisoned men.

Through the Dependents Fund, she also kept the scattered men together once they got out of prison or hospital. Her work was vital in preparing for the Irish War of Independence, which eventually saw Ireland free itself and become an Irish Republic.

Arbour Hill Memorial Park
Arbour Hill Memorial Park | Source

The End of the 1916 Easter Rising

Tom Clarke was shot dead at dawn on 3rd May 1916 in Kilmainham Jail yard. His body was dumped in the pit in Arbour Hill and covered in quick lime. The Easter Rising began at noon on Easter Monday on 24 April 1916.

It lasted for seven days until 30 April. Most of the Irish men and women who survived the battle during that week were arrested and transported to England and Wales to prisons and detention camps.

The men and women who took part in the 1916 Easter Rising were unable to free Ireland from British Rule that week. But what they did manage to do through their courage and sacrifice was ignite the desire for Irish freedom once again in the heart and soul of the Irish people.

Irish War of Independence

This led to the Irish War of Independence in 1919 and finally freedom from British Rule in January 1922 when Ireland became a Free State.Tom Clarke fought in the GPO during the 1916 Easter Rising and he was executed at Kilmainham Jail for his part in the Rising along with thirteen other men in the following week.

Their bodies were disposed of by the British Government in a mass grave at Arbour Hill Prison yard. He and the other men who lay buried at Arbour Hill Memorial Park are remembered for their part in Irish history.

They are: James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett, Con Colbert, Sean Heuston, Sean MacDermott, Thomas MacDonagh, Michael O'Hanrahan, John McBride, Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, William Pearse, Patrick Pearse and Edward Daly.


  • 1916 Portraits and Lives: Tom Clarke. Helen Litton
  • Tom Clarke: The True Leader of the Easter Rising. Michael Foy
  • Tom Clarke: Life, Liberty, Revolution. Gerard MacAtasney
  • Kathleen Clarke A Revolutionary Woman. Kathleen Clarke, Helen Litton.
  • A walk through Rebel Dublin 1916. Mick O'Farrell. 1999
  • Terrible Beauty. Diana Norman. 1987
  • Constance Markievicz. Sean O'Faolain. 1938
  • 1916 Rebellion Handbook. Mourne River Press. 1998
  • 113 Great Irishwomen and Irishmen. Art Byrne & Sean McMahon. 1990
  • Last Words. Piaras F. Mac Lochlainn. 1990
  • The Easter Rebellion. Max Caulfield. 1964
  • The O'Rahilly. Marcus Bourke. 1967
  • Agony at Easter, The 1916 Irish Uprising. Thomas M. Coffey. 1971
  • A Terrible Beauty is Born. Ulick O'Connor. 1975
  • Sixteen Roads To Golgotha. Martin Shannon.
  • The mystery of the Casement Ship. Captain Karl Spindler. 1965
  • Ghosts of Kilmainham. Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society. 1991
  • The Insurrection in Dublin. James Stephens. 1966
  • Kilmainham. Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society. 1982
  • The History of Kilmainham Gaol. Government of Ireland 1995.
  • Markievicz, The Rebel Countess. Moriarty & Sweeney. 1991
  • Countess Markievicz. An Independent Life. Anne Haverty. 1988
  • Dublin 1913, A Divided City. Curriculum Development Unit. 1989
  • Ireland Since The Famine. F S L Lyons. 1973
  • The Easter Rising. Nathaniel Harris. 1987
  • The Easter Rising. Dublin, 1916 The Irish Rebel Against British Rule. Neil Grant. 1973
  • 1916 As History. The Myth of the Blood Sacrifice. C. Desmond Greaves. 1991
  • The Irish Republic. Dorothy Macardle. 1968
  • North Dublin Easter 1916. North Inner City Folklore Project. Souvenir 1992.
  • Revolutionary Woman. Kathleen Clarke. 1878 - 1972 an Autobiography. 1991
  • A Memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Visit to Ireland 26th - 29th June 1963.
  • Wood Printing Works Ltd.
  • Unmanageable Revolutionaries. Women and Irish Nationalism. Margaret Ward. 1983
  • Women of Ireland, A biographic Dictionary. Kit and Cyril O Ceirin. 1996
  • Guns and Chiffon. Women Revolutionaries and Kilmainham Gaol. Government of Ireland. 1997
  • As I was going down Sackville Street. Oliver St John Gogarty. 1980


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    Post Comment
    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      12 months ago from Ireland

      Hello Mary. Yes both Tom and Kathleen Clarke were amazing Irish people who deserve to be remembered.

    • profile image

      Mary Nikaj 

      12 months ago

      What a man.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Yes Kathleen Clarke had to wait a very long time before she could join her husband Tom. They both had very hard lives because of their beliefs. At least Kathleen was able to see Ireland become free from British rule in her life time

    • profile image

      Eibhlin Ni Oisin 

      7 years ago

      Kathleen Clarke lived on into the 1970s.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Hello Becca, that's great I am glad I could help with your essay. I always find Irish history fascinating!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      couldn't have done my essay without you! fabulous work! thank you so much

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Thank you everyone for your comments, I do appreciate it. I write a lot of articles about Irish history because it fascinates me.

      The 1916 Easter Rising was a landmark for the Irish people. These Irish soldiers surrendered after a week but the leaders were sentenced to death.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I was fascinated by your story. What an in depth piece you have written. I enjoy reading history especially when it is as interestingly written as yours. Up and interesting.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      9 years ago from Fife, Scotland


      I'm from Fife in Scotland and my maternal Gran was from Ireland, although they had left Ireland many years before. I think the history is tragic and parts are appalling but shinning through is the courage and beliefs that finally made Ireland free. Great hub!

    • LeanMan profile image


      10 years ago from At the Gemba

      I am learning so much about history from your hubs, they are really good.

    • Jaypyramid profile image


      10 years ago

      I love the pictures Viking, especially the one of Kilmainham Goal. One place definitely worth a visit for anyone in Ireland. You get to see the cells and conditions that they where held. Its eerie but makes it so real. I love the story on Kathleen, especially her 'near death' experience. Its amazing that in school there is very little in Irish History about all the women that where involved and what they did.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      10 years ago from Texas

      Wow viking, I did not know you were such a history person. I can tell this series of hubs on the Easter Rising have been well researched and is very informative. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Cagsil profile image

      Raymond D Choiniere 

      10 years ago from USA

      Hey viking, an excellently written hub on the History of Ireland. The Easter Rising isn't something I have learned about, so reading your hub was quite informative. I'm always up for learning new things, considering I'm not well educated. So I appreciate your effort and thank you for sharing. :)

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      10 years ago

      Your series on the Easter Rising is so in depth - I have truly enjoyed learning this history - particularly having Irish heritage. Thank you for the wonderful research.


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