Kathleen Daly was born in Limerick, the third daughter of Edward and Catherine Daly. She was born into a prominent Fenian family. Her paternal uncle, John Daly, a subsequent Mayor of Limerick, was at the time imprisoned for his political activities in Chatham and Portland Prisons in England. Her uncle was released in 1896 and returned home to Limerick. At this time Kathleen had started a drapery business having previously begun an apprenticeship. When Tom Clarke, who had been imprisoned with her uncle, was released in 1898 he travelled to Limerick to receive the Freedom of the City and stayed with the Daly family.
In 1901 she ceased her business in the city as she had decided to emigrate to the United States to join Tom who had been there since 1900, having secured work through his Fenian contacts. They married on 16 July 1901 in New York and lived in both the Bronx and Brooklyn areas of the city. They had three children together. Through his contacts in the Clan na Gael and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Tom Clarke continued to be involved in nationalist activity. Kathleen joined the Gaelic League while in the USA and they returned to Ireland in November 1907. They opened a tobaconnist shop, initially at 75A Parnell Street, Dublin and then at 77 Amiens Street, Dublin.
Tom Clarke’s involvement in nationalist politics culminated in his participation in the 1916 Rising, and his subsequent execution. Kathleen’s only brother Edward (Ned) Daly was another of the leaders to be executed.
Kathleen was a founder member of Cumann na mBan. She did not take part in the Rising as she had been selected by the Irish Republican Brotherhood to coordinate the distribution of support for the families of activists. Afterwards she was a key organiser in the aid distributed to prisoners’ dependants, which was vital to establishing a network of sympathisers in the years of guerrilla war that followed.
During the War of Independence, she was an active fund-raiser, she sheltered men and women on the run and worked as a District Justice in the Sinn Féin courts in Dublin for the north city circuit, and also as Chairman of the Judges on this circuit. In 1919 she was elected Alderman for Dublin Corporation. In this capacity she served on numerous committees and boards. She was also active in the White Cross, a non-political organisation set up in 1920 to assist the families of Volunteers.
Although she opposed the Treaty, she was Chairman of a committee that tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a pact between Anti-Treaty and Pro-Treaty sides. The Irish Free State authorities imprisoned her for a short time in Kilmainham Gaol in February 1923. In 1924 Kathleen went to the United States to lecture and raise funds on behalf of Republicans.
A founder member of Fianna Fáil, between 1928-1936 she served in the Senate. She was Dublin’s first female Lord Mayor, 1939-1943. In 1948, at the age of 70, she stood unsuccessfully for the Clann na Poblachta party. Throughout the 1940s she served on numerous hospital boards and the National Graves Association.
In 1965 she left Ireland to live with her youngest son Emmet and his family in Liverpool, although she did return to Dublin in 1966 for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Rising. She died in Liverpool on the 29 September 1972 aged ninety-four.
She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin. She preferred to be known as Caitlín Bean Uí Chléirigh (Kathleen, Mrs Clarke) and had this inscription on her headstone. Her grand-niece, Helen Litton, edited her memoirs and her biography was published in 1991.