While St. Patrick’s Day is usually a joyous celebration, with lots of food, drink, and song, on a more somber note we would like to reflect on the life of Irish nun Sister Sarah Clarke, and her widely unknown battle against the English justice system. After the Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed in the United Kingdom in 1974, tensions between an already hostile relationship between Ireland and Britain grew worse; from the late 60s’ to unofficially 1998 (as some conflicts still remain), a group of Irish citizens carried out a political-ethnical-national revolt colloquially dubbed ‘The Troubles’ against the mainland Britain. The split between the two sides focused on loyalty to the British or to an independent Irish nation. While Northern Ireland belongs to the United Kingdom, the rest of Ireland is a republic, and the Troubles centered on whom the citizens should pledge allegiance to. The recent crisis in Ukraine with Russia and the Crimea makes an unsettling parallel to this issue.
But Sister Sarah Clarke, or using her Catholic name she adopted upon entering the habit, Sister Mary Auxilius, enters the picture after the Prevention of Terrorism Act was established, and dedicated much of her life to combating England’s justice system. This act essentially enabled police forces emergency powers during the Troubles, allowing them to seize and subdue any potential rioters and use whatever force necessary to prevent further revolt. As the Troubles continued and the body count increased, the English government determined that steps needed to be taken to crack down on the Troubles, and in doing so, granted power to the police and army, which ended up catching Sister Sarah Clarke’s attention. The cases in particular she focused on were the Guilford Four, the Maguire Seven, and the Birmingham Six, separate cases where the English government charged people with acts of terrorism that ended up being thrown out of court due to miscarriages of justice. These people were convicted of crimes they did not commit, and nearly faced life imprisonment for it, if not for the efforts of Sister Sarah Clarke.
Clarke, a Catholic nun, had been a religious teacher most of her life, teaching all around the United Kingdom until the 70s’, when the Troubles and civil rights movements were erupting across her native Ireland. After obtaining permission from her order La Sainte Union, she dedicated her life towards the betterment of the people caught in the conflict, and bringing to right the wrongs committed. Interestingly, she did not just focus on the innocent. She defended the guilty as well, not against their crimes, but against their treatment, using her teachings about Jesus to defend her position. She worked hard much of her life and with the help of others against a system that didn’t seem to care, but eventually her work would bear fruit and those condemned for nothing would be set free. She was tireless in her devotion to civil rights and the betterment of human treatment, aiding the convicted and their families alike. She died February 4, 2002, content with the justice she was able to provide for some of her countrymen during their country’s bitter struggle.