1916 court martials and executions: Thomas Kent
Caught up in the aftermath of Rising
Thomas Kent was the only one of the 15 men who were executed to be the subject of a court martial outside Dublin. He was also probably the unluckiest of them all. He did not participate in the Easter Rising, but was caught up in its aftermath.
There was no evidence presented that it was he who fired the shot that killed Head Constable William Rowe during a fierce gun battle at the family home in Castlelyons near Fermoy in Co Cork on May 2nd, three days after the Easter Rising ended. The court martial members were Maj RGA Jeffreys (president) assisted by Capt JE Massy and Capt JR Frend.
Kent and his two brothers, David and William, were all charged with the same offence as was used to condemn the rebels to death – namely that they engaged in acts that had the “intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy”.
Arguably, they should have been charged with murder or manslaughter and subjected to the strictures of a proper criminal trial, but the authorities saw their actions as being in sympathy with the defeated rebels and they were tried accordingly.
Five witnesses, three Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) members and two army officers, gave evidence at their short trial. The principal witness was Constable Samuel Caldbeck, who spoke of how they had gone to the Kent home in the early hours of May 2nd.
Head Constable Rowe knocked on the door and ordered the Kents to surrender. “The reply was ‘we will ever surrender. We will leave some of you dead’,” Caldbeck claimed. Caldbeck recalled three shots being fired from the upstairs bedroom. One “blew the face off Constable Rowe. At about 4.50am, after several shots had been fired from the house, someone shouted from the inside, ‘send for the priest, there is a man dying’,” Caldbeck remembered.
The Kents surrendered as they were outgunned and another brother, Richard Kent, who would later die of wounds, was dying in an upstairs room and the family wanted a priest to attend to him. The constables later searched the house and found another firearm. “I examined it. It had recently been fired,” Caldbeck said.
Similar evidence was given by two other RIC witnesses, Constable Frank King and Constable James Norris. Norris testified to finding “six cartridges and 12 bore shotguns lying on the floor”.
In his defence, Kent said he had been awakened by the sound of firearms and he went into his mother’s room where his brother William had taken shelter. “I never fired or had arms in my hand,” he told the court martial.
His file includes three sketch maps of his family home and surrounding area.
David Kent was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude; William, who was not known for his Republican activities, was acquitted.
The sentence of death was passed on Thomas Kent and carried out on May 9th in Cork Barracks.
He was executed by firing squad on May 9th, 1916, in Victoria (now Collins) Barracks, Cork and buried in an unmarked grave in its grounds. His remains were identified and exhumed last June and a State funeral took place in September.