Sister Sarah Clarke

The oral history interview of Sister Sarah Clarke is now available at the Dúchas oral history archive in Falls Community Council. She was a remarkable woman who will be remembered by many imprisoned in English jails and their families. Sarah campaigned vigorously for prisoners’ rights and supported the families on visits. She came to London in her early forties after a long and arduous teaching career in Ireland. Although so many people knew her for her fearless advocacy for prisoners and their families she was a woman of many parts.

She did an art degree at Chelsea Art School of art in 1960 in her early forties and in her interview fondly remembers being taken under the wing of the young students in her year although she was so different from them as a forty year old nun – Everything the students would do they’d insist that I do it, no matter what it was. Sometimes I was in very peculiar places, but I had to do it. I was part of them, and they were awful nice to me.

Sarah remembers the atmosphere of hostility towards Irish people living in England at that time and recalls one occasion hearing on the radio an instruction that anyone hearing Irish music being played to inform the police. She responded in a way typical of her: So I rang the Irish embassy, and I said that’s appalling. It never happened again. Sarah’s interview also recalls the impact of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was introduced in 1974. I was working so hard at the time I didn’t have time to look at the newspapers or listen to the radio or anything. I didn’t realise until I noticed an awful lot of the helpers were back in Ireland. They were excluded. And the awful thing about it was that they were under no obligation to tell you why you were going. Even when you appealed it you couldn’t fight something when you don’t know what you are fighting. It was really awful, it split up families, broke up marriages, it did all kinds of dreadful things. And it scared everybody. It wasn’t a prevention of terrorism act, it was a terrorism act itself.

Sarah recorded the interview in 2001 and was interviewed by Mairead Gilmartin. She was in her eighties when she was interviewed for the Dúchas archive but she had kept her lilting Galway accent.