Portrait of Dublin’s First Female Lord Mayor unveiled 

by Alison O'Hanlon
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A specially commissioned portrait of Dublin’s firstfemale Lord Mayor, Kathleen Clarke, has been unveiled in the Council Chamber at City Hall, on the 50thanniversary of her death.

Artist Gareth Reid’s painting is the first portrait commissioned by Dublin City Council in over 100 years.

A founder member of Cumann na mBan, Kathleen Clarke made history when she was elected as the firstwoman Lord Mayor of Dublin on 27th June 1939. She was the daughter of a prominent Fenian family, and her husband Tom Clarke was the first signatory of the 1916 Proclamation. Having served as a TD and a senator, she became a Dublin City councillor in 1930.  Elected as Lord Mayor on the casting vote of Alfie Byrne, Mrs Clarke refused to be invested with the Lord Mayor’s Great Chain, or wear the red robes of office. 

The commission for the portrait was awarded to Belfast-born Gareth Reid following a limited competition. Gareth Reid’s work is held in major galleries in Ireland and the UK, including the National Gallery of Ireland, for whom he painted the broadcaster and author Graham Norton.

Pictured are Paula Keeshan, Helen Litton & Rionach de h-Oir grandnieces of Kathleen Clarke
Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

The portrait was unveiled in the prestigious Council chamber of Dublin City Hall, where it hangs alongside those of previous Lord Mayors, all men, including Daniel O’Connell.

Speaking at the unveiling Lord Mayor Caroline Conroy said, “I want to congratulate Gareth on his great work, which will from now on have pride of place here in our historic Council Chamber. He has through this portrait truly given the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin the recognition and honour she deserves.

Gareth’s painting will, I hope, remind us, as we meet here on the first Monday of each month, that we follow in a long line of women and men who have stood for election, who have been elected to serve Dublin and its people, and who are dedicated to building on the work of the many councillors who have served before us.”

The Lord Mayor said that the public would be able to see the portrait on days when City Hall was not being used for official business.

Portrait of Dublin’s First Female Lord Mayor unveiled by City Council. Pictured is Lord Mayor Caroline Conroy and Cllr Deirdre Heney, Chair of Protocol Committee, Dublin City Council,
Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

Also speaking at the unveiling, Helen Litton, Kathleen Clarke’s biographer and grandniece remarked, “Until Kathleen Clarke, no woman had yet been elected mayor or lord mayor anywhere in Ireland. Her election was seen as a momentous event and the excitement could be compared to that caused by the election of Mary Robinson as the first female president of Ireland some 50 years later. On behalf of the family I want to thank Dublin City Council for the great honour they have accorded our great aunt.”

Kathleen Clarke served as Lord Mayor for two terms, standing down as a councillor in 1941 on the grounds of ill health. Continuing to live an active public life until her death on 29th September 1972, she received a State funeral, the third of only three women to be so honoured.

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