Stephen Clarke

The Clarke Homestead – Murlough

Stephen Clarke was born in Torglass to Daniel Clarke and Anne Mc Neill.

He was one of at least four children, Hugh, Daniel, Mary, and Stephen. In my opinion there are more than these four as there are 16 years between Hugh and Stephen. Hugh would join the RIC which would be a common practice for young catholic men. By 1913, 86% of recruits were from the Catholic faith. In many large Catholic families of the time, it would not be unusual for some of the sons to join the police force or indeed the priesthood. The fact that Hugh joined the RIC could possibly tell us that there was an elder son as the eldest son would have been expected to stay and work the farm.

Hugh was the first child that I could find for now. Hugh was baptised on the 21st of June 1857 and all the Clarke Children were educated and could read and write. At first, I thought that they would have attended Ballyucan School which would have been relatively close to the homestead but the first references that I can find to that school was in the 1890’s. So, where their education took place remains unanswered. After schooling Hugh would join the RIC on the 10th of February 1882 and was recommended by Sub Inspector Owen Wynne of Ballymoney station. Owen himself was only in the job a year, and not long after his recommendation of Hugh would be transferred to Co Clare. Hugh’s first placement was in

Co Galway before coming back to Co Derry. He would be stationed at both Garvagh and Portrush and then Victoria barracks in the city of Derry. [1]

On the 23rd of June 1897, Hugh would get married in Dungiven Chapel to Martha Mc Farland. Three months after the wedding, he would be transferred to the Glenties, in West Donegal. In the 1901 census, Hugh and Martha were still living in Glenties. Ten years later, the family which doesn’t look to include kids would be living back in Ballycastle living on Anne Street with three other people, James Keegan of Coleraine, Eithne Nic Lochlainn, who taught in one of the local schools and then John Dunbar who was a toy maker and carver and son of Margaret Dunbar.

The John Dunbar connection is of interest. Hugh’s younger brother Stephen was himself a toymaker and carpenter and would play a great role in the Irish Home Industries that would open on Ann Street in 1904 and founded by Belfast woman Mrs Frances Riddell. This would be a replica of Barbara Mc Donnell’s flourishing toy shop in Cushendall that had been founded in 1901. The well-known Belfast Antiquarian Francis Joseph Biggar alongside Frances Riddell would use her example and found this one in Ballycastle. It would train young men in wood craft and young woman in linen craft amongst other things. A great showing of this locally produced arts and craft would be highlighted at the first Glens Feis in 1904 and an even greater recognition of the talent would be shown from both shops at the St Louis World Fair in 1904. Hugh’s lodger John Dunbar would have been someway involved in this industry in 1911. Another link and more obvious connection between John Dunbar and the Irish Home Industries would be Hugh’s youngest brother Stephen Clarke.

An Tuirne Beag – The Little Spinning Wheel.

Stephen Clarke was baptised on the 28th of February 1873 in Culfeightrin with the baptism witnessed by Hugh Duncan and Mary Stewart. The Duncan Family and the Stewart Families would have been the neighbours of the Clarke’s. The Duncan Family still own land and reside in this area to this day and the Stewarts would have lived on the hill above the Clarke house. Known locally as the Stewart’s of Benvan. [2]

Stephen was living at home with his sister Mary and brother Daniel in the family home in the 1901 census and he is listed as a carpenter. With the founding of the shop on Ann Street he would be employed as an instructor and would in 1905 be credited with persuading Mrs Riddell to bring in a Bavarian Wood Carver known as Andreas Lang. Bavarian was renowned around the world for wood Carving. Newly available research shows that there has been some confusion on the previously thought Andreas Lang that was in Ballycastle. It was previously thought that he returned home to play Christ in the Passion Play. The new research shows that this was in fact his cousin, the Ballycastle Andreas Lang would relocate to Dublin and was then sent home during WW1 with German resentment rising. We also in 1905 get a feel of Stephen’s politics when that year he was arrested for “Sedition”

The Irish Peasant Home Industries – Clarke at door?

On the 4th of July 1905, Stephen was arrested by Constable Hayes. This was an episode that started back in May of that year when Stephen Clarke gave 40 to 50 flyers to James Hill and asked him to distribute them in the Diamond, Ballycastle to men and boys on the ‘Fair Day’ in Ballycastle. The leaflets were handed about in different areas and were handed out in advance of a visit of the West Yorkshire Regiment.

On his case being heard, the judge returned the accused for trial at the Antrim Assizes, but he would accept bail for his appearance. Himself in £100 and two sureties of £50 each. There is a locally held narrative that Roger Casement, executed on the 3rd of August 1916 paid his bail.

The leaflet was published by Dungannon Club Publications and cost 1p. It read:

“Irishmen and the English Army

Some reasons why no true Irishman can join the Army of England.

There are but two parties in Ireland – the Irish people and the English Garrison. To tighten her hold on the life of the Irish People – to keep them in subjection- to keep them poor and uneducated and miserable that they may serve her interests better and their own the worst- England keeps this garrison in our country.

Any man joining England’s army, Navy, or police force takes his stand in the camp of the garrison, he is a traitor to his country and an enemy of his people. Any man entering her services betray his own land and goes over to her enemies. Let England fight her own battles, we have done it long enough. Let her arm and drill the sickly population of her slums, the men of the hills and country places will go no more. Let her fight for the extension of her empire, for the men of the Gael are not going to be bribed into betraying themselves and their country again at the bidding of England.”

The Crown Prosecution was handled by George Hill Smith and Mr WH Boyd whilst Stephen Clarke was represented by Mr James Chamber, and Mr W.M Whittaker. Called as witness for the events in Ballycastle that morning was James Hill, George Henry, baker, Francis Dunlop, labourer and Andrew Meghanu and John Ferris.

Both George Henry and Whittaker said that they received the publication and had to pay no money for it. The arresting officer was Sergeant Loughran. A Tyrone born man, Hugh Loughran would take his post in Ballycastle in 1900 and was a resident of North Street in the town. He knew Clarke well and said that he was well liked within the town. On the 12th of June 1905 he would have an interview with Clarke and cautioned him, he asked did he know anything about these leaflets. He said they were sent to him to be distributed and he gave them to James Hill to distribute on the fair day. [3]

At the end of witness statements, the judge said it had been very straightforward case and explain to the jury what the offence of Seditious Libel actually was. The jury returned after ninety minutes of deliberation and found that “the accused is guilty of publishing and distributing the pamphlet produced, but not with seditious intent.”

The judge held that the verdict was in favour of the defendant and directed his acquittal by the jury, who had formally returned a verdict of not guilty. The prisoner was discharged.

This is a really interesting chapter in Stephen’s life, and I think without jumping to conclusion we can investigate a bit more. On the 23rd of April 1913, Stephen would get married in Dublin. He would marry Sarah Anne Flanagan and his best man that day was Denis Mc Cullough while Margaret Flanagan would stand for Sarah. The Flanagan’s were from the Drumcondra area of Dublin and Sarah’s father was noted as a farmer.

Stephen’s best man, Belfast born Denis Mc Cullough was a renowned republican and founding member of the Dungannon Clubs.

Mc Cullough and Holywood born Bulmer Hobson would form the Dungannon Clubs in March 1905 with both men involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Gaelic league, but they also had a more militarised mindset and sought to move faster. Eventually the Dungannon Clubs would be absorbed and amalgamated into the Sinn Fein Movement. In June 1917, Stephen Clarke alongside Louis J Walsh would find the Ballycastle Sinn Fein branch.

The Maghera born solicitor, Louis J Walsh opened a practice in Ballycastle on Ann Street and would become a well-known character in Irish history. But that is a story for another day. In April 1905, Louis J Walsh presided over some of the founding meetings of the Dungannon Clubs. After the founding of the Clubs, the first few months would see pamphlets on the Irish language, Ireland’s independence, and opposition to British Army recruitment in Ireland distributed.

This would be undoubtedly where the leaflets that Stephen Clarke and John Hill handed out would have come from. But was Stephen Clarke in the Dungannon Clubs?! Liam Mc Mullan, who served his time in the toy factory would later say in his witness statement that he was indeed and that the Ballycastle toy factory would be a meeting place for extreme nationalists. He was extremely close with the founder of the Dungannon Clubs, Denis Mc Cullough who would later go on to become Stephen’s best man at his wedding. Denis Mc Cullough in his witness statement years later would recall spending all day in the courtroom as Stephen’s trial was ongoing. His defence fund would be funded by Roger Casement, Mrs Stopford Green, Francis Joseph Biggar, and Miss Ida Mc Neill of Cushendun. [4]

Clarke would in the immediate years after this event continue on with his active participation in Ballycastle civic life. He would take on the role of Secretary for the Feis Na nGleann which was a powerful celebration of Gaelic cultural life. Much of the wood and linen craft highlighted would come from the Irish Home Industries. Clarke would also become one of the main marshalls of the newly founded Shane O’Neill Commemoration in Cushendun. This would have seen over six thousand people participate in its formative years. It was a great gathering of the Gael commemorating many of Ireland’s characters and would also be a memorial to the Manchester Martyr’s, including Culfeightrin born Dan Darragh.

The Glens Feis Committee including Clarke.

In 1912, both Stephen and Francis Joseph Biggar were responsible for purchasing Rathlin a new boat. On Saturday 4th November the previous year, the Rathlin boat was wrecked at her moorings in Church Bay. It highlighted the neglected Rathlin community and the need for a new boat. The new boat was built by James Kelly of Portrush and was taken across to the island by Archibald Coyles, accompanied by Francis Joseph Biggar, the Hon William Gibson and Stephen Clarke alongside a piper who played on the Irish War pipes on the journey over. The Rev A Mc Kinley met them on arrival with a large part of the Island community. The boat was called Fainne Gael an Lae (The dawning of the day). A thanks was given to both Clarke and F. J. Biggar for their help in securing the boat. This wouldn’t be their last piece of business with the Island, however. In 1913, an Irish School, St Malachy’s would be set up on the Island for the summer months and then in 1914, the men would be back on Rathlin once again with the formation of the Irish Volunteers. [5]

In February 1913 Clarke was re-elected as the Chairman of the North Antrim GAA and is a position he would hold for some years. Just over two months later he was in Dublin marrying Sarah Flanagan on the 23rd of April 1913 in St Columba’s but I haven’t been able to find as much information on Sarah Flanagan as I would like. I have found Sarah Flanagan in the 1911 census who is twenty-two and looks like she was part of some religious community, Sisters of Mercy, I am open to correction?[6]

In 1914, and the outbreak of WWI in Europe, the small shop factory on Ann Street closed but the shop remained open. Clarke would find other pursuits to keep him occupied and would in this year propose the founding of the “Ballycastle Irish Historical Association” becoming Treasurer of this organisation. This was a historical society that was steeped in Gaelic culture and the first four lectures would include papers on Henry Flood, Wolfe Tone, Hugh O’Neill, and The Irish Volunteers of 1762. We need to remember that this was founded against the strong militarisation of Irish society with the commencement of WWI.

The historical society would be formed to educate and give a strong sense of national pride in the local lads who were being encouraged to sign up for Europe. The Irish Volunteers would be formed in these years too to combat the rise of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a unionist militant organisation. Ballycastle would be no different, there would be two factions in Ballycastle with substantial numbers. The Ballycastle UVF had by April 1914, over 65 members, the Irish National Volunteers had by July of that year in Ballycastle 170 volunteers. I haven’t been able to find any direct evidence of Clarke being on the committee of the national volunteers locally, but he was the secretary of the Shane O’Neill Commemoration and in 1914, over 1000 local volunteers marched to this location.[7]

Clarke would also be on Rathlin Island in 1914, helping to raise a local contingent of the Irish Volunteers on the Island. There is reportedly pictorial evidence of this event taking place and we know that both he and F.J Biggar were at work on the Island. The Irish Volunteer movement split in Ballycastle in late 1914. John Redmond of the Irish Parliamentary Party had successfully managed to get a large majority on to the National committee of the volunteers and would effectively become the leader. When he gave a speech in August 1914 in Wicklow offering support for the British war effort, the organisation split across the Island. Ballycastle would split too. The two groupings became known as the Irish Volunteers (later the Irish Republican Army) and the Irish National Volunteers, where many men would head to Europe. The bulk of the men that stayed with the Irish Volunteers would later form the base of the Sinn Fein movement which would really start to gather momentum after the 1916 Easter Rising. In the years before the rising Clarke would be back and forth to Dublin on business to Sinn Fein meetings, accompanied by Liam Mc Mullan who would recall that he was in company with Roger Casement, Bulmer Hobson, Sean Mac Diarmada and Arthur Griffith. Liam McMullan also recalled that in 1915, he would depart Ballycastle and cycle to Cushendun with Denis Mc Cullough, his brother, Sean Mac Diarmada and Hobson. [8]

Irish Volunteers Rathlin – Reportedly Stephen Clarke at front.

With popular opinion turning after 1916 and the casualties and fatalities of WWI mounting up with no end in sight, the politics of Ireland was changing. When the talk of conscription entered the conversation, the Sinn Fein Movement was starting to gather strength. New clubs would shoot up across the Island. It would be early June 1917 that the first Sinn Fein presence would be felt in Ballycastle. There would be a flag erected in the Diamond and the police would put together an operation, including a fishing rod and a torch to burn it down. By the end of the month, it was evident that there was enough support for a club to be formed, and under the leadership of Louis J Walsh, so it became. Clarke was high enough within the organisation that upon its second meeting he would take the chair for the occasion. The local Sinn Fein Branch would be known as the Casement Sinn Fein Club, in memory of their friend and comrade who was executed on 3rd August 1916.

Another early subscriber to the organisation would be James Mc Carry, a neighbour of the Clarke Family in Murlough who within a few years would be shot down on Market Street by the RIC.

As far back as 1918, there was an overwhelming desire within the ratepayers of Ballycastle to have the extra powers of an urban council, which would then become a reality in early 1920. WWI was by then two years over and Ireland was in the middle of the War of Independence. There was a total of twelve new town commissioners elected for the Ballycastle township, and the town was split into two wards, North Ward, and South Ward. Six of the commissioners were of the Nationalist persuasion and six from a Unionist viewpoint. Stephen Clarke was elected for the North Ward. I would imagine as one of the Nationalists (humour). The first chairperson of the commissioners would be Daniel Mc Kinley, a man with experience from his many years on the rural council. (Nationalist). His vice chair was Sydney J Lyle from Derdinagh House (Unionist) and Clarke would become part of the finance committee.[9] Surprisingly there is little public information available about Stephen Clarke through the years of the War of Independence here. With his background I thought he would have been prominent but from the 1920’s onwards Clarke seems to have thrown himself wholeheartedly into his role as one of the town commissioners. He would hold the chair on many occasions during this period, including the year before he passed away. Stephen Clarke passed away on the 20th of April 1931; working right up until nearing the end of his life.[10] One of his last acts as chair of the committee would bring to attention the role of evangelical street preachers at the Lammas fair.

Sarah Flanagan would outlive Stephen by quite some years. She continued running the toy shop on Ann Street and passed away on the 27th of June 1972.[11] The small shop was then taken over by two nieces of the Clarkes who went by the name Kelly. Many people in Ballycastle have memories of them and the shop with the half door. The vast majority of the Ballycastle Museum collection now consists of crafts made within the confines of the Irish Home Industries. This was saved from the shop and donated to the Council in 1983.

There is more information to add – I have recently tried to contact one of the sons of the Kelly girls, nieces of Stephen Clarke.

Mary Clarke, Murlough c.1900, sister of Stephen Clarke.
The Little Spinning Wheel.



[3] Northern Constitution 22nd July 1905

[4] – Denis Mc Cullough

[5] Northern Whig, Tuesday 11th June 1912

[6] Census Ireland 1911

[7] Ballymoney Free Press and Northern Counties Advertiser – 9th July 1914

[8] – Liam Mc Mullan

[9] Ballymoney Free Press and Northern Counties Advertiser – 1st April 1920



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