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‘An Irish patriot and British soldier’

Thomas Kettle was a renowned Irish poet, statesman and soldier who died during the Battle of the Somme, 9 September 1916. He was educated by the Jesuits in Clongowes Wood College SJ, Naas, Co.Kildare. His life and death was remembered at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, in the last week, as well as during the Clongowes College War Graves Trip in September 2014. Hundreds of past pupils of Clongowes took part in WWI, and ninety-five perished including Lieutenant Thomas Kettle.

On the centenary of his death, Friday, 9 September 2016, University College Dublin hosted a seminar entitled ‘Tom Kettle 100’, and unveiled a memorial plaque in his honour. In the afternoon, at the memorial bust to Kettle situated in St. Stephen’s Green, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, spoke at a State Ceremonial event marking the centenary of  his death.

Minister Flanagan said that Tom Kettle was a politician, a true European and a hugely important figure. “The death of this proud nationalist was not only a loss for his family and friends but a huge loss to Ireland.” The Minister said that Ireland in its early years as a state would have been enriched by someone with the intellect and talents of Thomas Kettle, adding, “His loss is a reminder of the tragedy of a generation from across Europe who were caught up in the slaughter of World War I. I can think of no more fitting tribute to their memory than to cherish the peace and stability we have in Europe today and to seek ways of extending this beyond our borders to parts of the world experiencing the horrors of war today.”

Earlier in the morning Declan O’Keeffe, historian and Head of Communications at Clongowes College, delivered a paper at the ‘Tom Kettle 100’ seminar in UCD. Below is a short tribute from Declan to one of Clongowes most renowned past pupils.

A Remarkable Man

Many Old Clongownians responded to the urging of John Redmond and played a prominent role in the Irish contribution to the Allied effort in World War I. Over 600 past pupils participated in the War and 95 lost their lives – their names appear on a brass plaque on the wall outside the Boys’ Chapel in Clongowes College. Among them was Kettle who was a student in the College between 1894 and 1897, and was killed at Ginchy on the Western Front on September 9th 1916.

Kettle wrote that ‘this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain’. Speaking in the House of Commons in 2014 in the context of an homage to Irish parliamentarians who had died in the First World War President Michael D Higgins said that Kettle was, ‘an Irish patriot, a British soldier and a true European [and] that it has been in that European context of mutuality and interdependence that we took the most significant steps towards each other.’

Thomas Michael ‘Tom’ Kettle (1880 – 1916) was an Irish journalist, barrister, writer, poet, soldier, economist and Home Rule politician. During his three years at Clongowes Tom was known as a wit and a good debater, who also enjoyed athletics, cricket and cycling and attained honours in English and French when leaving. In University College Dublin he was a leading student politician, auditor of the Literary and Historical Society and a brilliant scholar in the company of other Old Clongownians Oliver St John Gogarty and James Joyce.

As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he was MP for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 then, on the outbreak of World War I in 1914, enlisted for service in an Irish Regiment, where in 1916 he met his death on the Western Front.

Kettle was one of the leading figures of the generation, which – at the turn of the twentieth century – gave new intellectual life to Irish party politics, and to the constitutional movement towards All-Ireland Home Rule. The Great War brought both of these and his life to an end. A gifted speaker with an incisive mind and devastating wit, his death was regarded as a great loss to Ireland’s political and intellectual life.

When next you are in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin you might pause for a moment and for a moment’s thought of this remarkable man.

Declan O’Keeffe.