Clarke (Crilly), Margaret (1881–1961), artist and teacher, was born 29 July 1881 in Newry, Co. Down, the daughter of Patrick Crilley and his wife Mary. After working as a baller in a rope factory she initially trained, with her sister Jane, at Newry technical school, and, in 1905, went on a scholarship to Dublin, where she studied under William Orpen (qv) at the Metropolitan School of Art. Orpen considered her one of his most talented pupils. He purchased some of her work, and had her sit as a model for several of his paintings, most notably ‘The Aran islander’ and ‘The fairy ring’. In the national competition under the British board of education she won the silver and bronze medals for painting from the nude in 1911, and in 1913 she won the bronze medal for oil painting. While at college she met Harry Clarke (qv). He greatly admired her work, and spent several summers with her in the company of Séan Keating (qv) on the Aran Islands. Through Clarke she received a commission from his father, Joshua, to paint a series of Gothic busts, and in the spring of 1913 she submitted a portrait of his younger sister Dolly to the RHA. They married 31 October 1914, and had two sons and one daughter. The portrait of Dolly Clarke marked the beginning of her fifty-year association with the RHA; in the years that followed she exhibited more than sixty paintings at the academy.
By the 1920s Margaret Clarke had established herself as a successful portrait painter; her sitters included Lennox Robinson (qv), Dermod O'Brien (qv), Eamon de Valera (qv), the Rev. (later Archbishop) John C. McQuaid (qv), and Mary Macken (professor of German at UCD 1911–49). Her portraits of Joshua and Harry Clarke are in the National Gallery of Ireland; the latter was painted from photographs. She also produced many informal domestic scenes, which featured her children as models; ‘Bath time at the creche’ (c.1925) is a good example of this genre. She was elected ARHA in 1926, and RHA in 1927.
Clarke won the gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Tailteann festival in 1924, another Tailteann bronze medal in 1928, and the bronze trophy in 1932. In 1927 she contributed to the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery exhibition ‘Irish portraits by Ulster artists’, while in 1929 her work appeared alongside that of her husband, Dermod O'Brien, and Charles Lamb (qv) in the first Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art in New York's Helen Hackett Gallery. The following year she submitted paintings to an exhibition of Irish art in Brussels. She received commissions from the Empire Marketing Board in England in 1930, and from the Haverty bequest in 1932, for which she produced ‘St. Patrick climbs Croagh Patrick’. A member of the Society of Dublin Painters, she held her first one-woman show at the Dublin Painters’ Gallery in 1939.
She was an executive committee member for the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943, and in 1958 assisted in organising the Evie Hone exhibition at UCD. She taught painting and life drawing in the Dublin School of Art and the RHA schools for many years. Following the death of her husband in 1931, she was involved in running Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd, in which she was later assisted by her children David Clarke and Ann Bourke. She died in Dublin 31 October 1961, and was buried in the Redford cemetery, Greystones, Co. Wicklow. Her work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin City Gallery (The Hugh Lane), the Crawford Gallery, the Ulster Museum, Limerick Art Gallery, and the Irish College in Rome.