‘CSI 1916’: how Rising martyr Thomas Kent mystery was solved

Story of how man’s remains were exhumed and identified to be told at free UCC lecture

It may have taken almost a century, but when 1916 Easter Rising martyr Thomas Kent was reinterred in his family vault in Castlelyons in Co Cork last year, it not only marked closure for his family but also a successful operation by some top Irish specialists in the field of forensic science.

Now the story of establishing that the remains were actually those of Thomas Kent will be told in a public lecture entitled CSI 1916 at University College Cork. Some of those involved in the operation will tell of their part in the exhumation and identification of the remains.

From a strongly nationalist family and a prominent member of the Irish Volunteers in Co Cork, Kent was, along with Roger Casement, one of only two people who were executed outside of Dublin for his activities during Easter Week 1916.

Kent was found guilty by the British authorities of armed rebellion when he and three of his brothers fought back against an RIC party which came to their home at Castlelyons in east Cork on May 2nd, 1916, as part of a round-up of prominent nationalists in the wake of the Easter Rising.


State funeral

Kent was executed by firing squad in the prison yard of what was then Cork Military Detention Barracks on the morning of May 9th, 1916 and was buried close to where he fell in what later became part of

Cork Prison

on Rathmore Road.

However, last year Kent’s family accepted the offer of a State funeral from Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who said the event would “ensure that Thomas Kent is never again described as a forgotten leader of 1916”.

Preparation for the State funeral and subsequent reinterment of Kent’s remains at the family vault in Castlelyons began last June when human remains were exhumed from the spot in Cork Prison where it was believed he had been buried.

Historian Gabriel Doherty of the school of history at UCC said that "over time uncertainty grew as to the precise location of the grave, uncertainty that was accentuated by the fact that the military detention barracks were converted into a civilian prison, thereby preventing free access to the site".

Mr Doherty said that one of the expert speakers participating at CSI 1916 is archaeologist Tom Condit who is employed by the National Monuments Service which carried out the archaeological investigations that took place at the site in Cork Prison.

“Tom’s talk will address the challenges posed in identifying the probable site of the remains of Thomas Kent – which included the use of different types of geophysical survey techniques – as well as the details of the excavation process itself,” said Mr Doherty.

The second speaker at the event, which takes place in the Boole IV Lecture Theatre at UCC this Thursday at 8pm, is Dr Jens Carlsson of the school of biology and environmental science at UCD.

Dr Carlsson undertook the process of verifying that the remains located by the archaeological excavation were actually those of Kent.

Innovative work

Dr Carlsson said that while people had heard about genetic identification methods used by forensic laboratories around the world, confirming that the remains exhumed from Cork Prison were those of Kent involved some innovative work.

“The Thomas Kent case turned out to be a very challenging task that demanded development of novel genetic identification methods,” Dr Carlsson said.

“In this presentation, the detective work and method development needed to confirm the identity of Thomas Kent will be presented.”

The event is free and open to all members of the public who wish to attend. No booking is required.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times