On April 24th Ireland will mark the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising that led to Irish independence. Irish patriots seized the General Post Office in the heart of Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic. The first man to sign that proclamation, Thomas Clarke, lived for many years right here in Greenpoint at 175 Russell Street with his wife Kathleen Clarke who was also a heroic Irish revolutionary in her own right. So let’s investigate the Clarke’s stay here.
Thomas Clarke was born on March 11 1858, ironically enough in England as the son of a British Army Officer, but he grew up in County Tyrone, Ireland. Early in life he became involved in fighting against the British and he had to flee to America because of an incident in which he fired on British soldiers.
Clarke came to Greenpoint in 1881 and managed a now long gone local hotel called the Mansion House. He was still deeply committed to Irish independence so he joined a revolutionary organization, Clan na Gael, which was plotting to bomb Britain into granting Ireland its independence. Clarke became a member of a five man terrorist cell led a by a Greenpoint doctor, Thomas Gallagher, which was planning a dynamite campaign against London. One of the members of the cell was probably a British agent and Clarke and the other dynamiters were caught and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Clarke and his team were singled out for particularly sadistic treatment; they were kept in isolation except for an exercise period and were forbidden to speak to anyone at any time. The guards engaged in systematic abuse of the prisoners ranging from severe beatings to sleep deprivation. Gallagher and another comrade were broken and went insane. Clarke had to labor in a prison foundry and often scalded himself. For 15 years Clarke endured until his parole in 1898.
After his release he headed for Ireland where he met the niece of one of the men who had been imprisoned with him, Kathleen Daly who was twenty-one years his junior. She was at first unimpressed with him physically, but his character and dedication to Ireland soon won her heart. They married and headed off to America in 1901 and quickly they began living on Russell Street. Clarke began a local Irish revolutionary newspaper called the “Clansman “ and devoted himself to the struggle for Irish independence. Kathleen bore Tom a son in 1902 and the boy was named after her uncle John Daly who had suffered together with Clarke in prison. Kathleen became successful and opened a local candy shop and ice cream parlor, but their hearts were still in Ireland.
Eventually, the couple moved back to Dublin and became involved in plotting the armed rebellion. In 1914 she became one of the organizers of Cumann na mBan, an Irish women’s revolutionary organization, of which she would later become president.
After a week of fighting in 1916, Tom and the other rebels who had taken over the post office surrendered. Tom and Kathleen’s brother were both sentenced to be shot. She was allowed one final visit with him before his execution. He told her, “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.” She had a miscarriage of the child she was carrying.
Kathleen became a giant in the Irish revolutionary movement after her husband and brother’s death. She was elected as an Irish Senator and then in 1939, Lord Mayor of Dublin. She was instrumental in getting legislation helping women made into law. After a long life she died in 1972, and was given a state funeral. I spoke with a man who was born and raised at 175 Russell Street and he had no idea of the famous residents who once lived there.