Founder member of Amnesty International's Irish branch

Stephanie Clear : STEPHANIE CLEAR, who has died aged 91, was a former senior civil servant and a founder member of Amnesty International…

Stephanie Clear: STEPHANIE CLEAR, who has died aged 91, was a former senior civil servant and a founder member of Amnesty International's Irish branch.

A native of Dublin, she worked for 40 years as a civil servant, becoming the State’s first woman probate officer, first female registrar of the High Court, and also admiralty marshall – a position, as she used to explain with some bemusement, that involved her having the power to arrest ships.

During her long career she also served as chairwoman of the courts’ branch of the Association of Higher Civil Servants, doing so during a period of major staff restructuring.

After becoming the first woman assistant examiner, Clear was involved in two of the largest liquidation cases of the period: Shanahan Stamps and Palgrave Murphy.


Educated at the Dominican College, Eccles Street, Dublin, she had a wide range of interests and was a member of a group that, from the late 1940s, regularly travelled to continental Europe at a time when foreign travel and international tourism were very much minority activities. Greece, Turkey, Russia and Czechoslovakia were among the countries visited.

This in turn fitted in with her interest in languages, including Irish. She was a member of the Italian Institute for many years.

Her independence and intellectual curiosity led to her and her friend, Isolde Peterson, becoming founding members of the Irish branch of Amnesty International.

The organisation was formed in London in 1961. In May of that year Peter Benenson wrote an article in the Observerabout prisoners of conscience around the world and Clear, in a piece written many years later, recalled how Peterson responded to the article by sending a donation and received her (unasked for) membership receipt by return of post.

Peterson encouraged Clear to become involved. Soon she was in correspondence with a white South African student, Ann, with whom she corresponded during her time on remand, and again when on house arrest after serving her prison sentence.

“Two and a half years in prison followed by house arrest changed her. Her letters seemed to be from a different person. The light had died in her.”

It was this “heartbreaking” experience in particular which prompted Clear to become “really involved” in Amnesty, which she did.

The records of the Rathgar, branch of Amnesty in Dublin are testimony to her work over the years and include thick files of handwritten and typed correspondence with officials and companies, Governments and prisoners around the globe.

At the time the policy was for activists to pick prisoners in groups of three, with one each from a country on each side of the Iron Curtain, and a third from a non-aligned country.

Clear retired from the Civil Service in April, 1980. She was a talented water colourist, as was her late sister Phyllis, and she held regular shows in such locations as the Oisín Gallery and the Winding Stair bookshop during the 1980s and 1990s, with the proceeds going to Amnesty. She is survived by her late brother Kevin’s seven children, grand and great grand nieces and nephews, and cousins in Dublin and Fermanagh.

Stephanie Clear: Born December 27th, 1919; died January 15th, 2010