State funeral for 1916 rebel Thomas Kent in September

Prominent nationalist Kent executed in Victoria Barracks in May 1916 after firefight

The Government is to hold a State funeral for Thomas Kent - one of only two people executed outside of Dublin in 1916 - after DNA testing confirmed that remains found in Cork Prison belong to him.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the State was pleased to be able to offer the honour of State funeral to the descendants of Mr Kent, who was executed in Cork Prison, the Victoria Barracks in May 1916.

Earlier this year, the Kent family had accepted the offer of a State funeral for him, and it will now take place from the prison to the family plot in Castlelyons in North Cork on September 18th.

"Thomas Kent was one of many young men who, in pursuit of the goal of Irish freedom, paid the ultimate sacrifice," said Mr Kenny as he confirmed details of when the funeral will take place.


Four brothers

Thomas Kent was one of four brothers who resisted arrest when members of the RIC came to their home at Castlelyons as part of a round-up of prominent nationalists around the country.

The RIC action took place after the Easter Rising began in Dublin and when the RIC party arrived at the Kent home at Bawnard House to arrest the brothers, a firefight broke out.

During the violence, which lasted four hours, RIC head constable William Rowe was killed and David Kent was seriously wounded before the brothers were forced to surrender.

Another brother, Richard, tried to make a dash for freedom but was mortally wounded. Thomas and William Kent were arrested and brought to Victoria Barracks in Cork.

Both were tried by court martial on a charge of armed rebellion and although William was acquitted, Thomas was found guilty and executed by firing squad on May 9th, 1916.

Thomas Kent’s remains were buried in the ground of the Military Detention Barracks - now Cork Prison - at the rear of Victoria Barracks, which is now Collins Barracks in Cork.

Apart from Roger Casement - who was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London - Thomas Kent is the only person to have been executed outside of Dublin for his role in the events of Easter Week.

In June, remains were exhumed at the grounds of Cork Prison in an investigation led by the National Monuments Service in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

A DNA test was carried out on the remains, involving the State Pathologist's Office, the Garda Technical Bureau and the UCD Science Faculty, which confirmed they were those of Thomas Kent.

Exhumation criticised

The decision to exhume the remains from Cork Prison and afford Kent a State funeral was not without controversy, with historian John A Murphy criticising the proposal.

In a letter to The Irish Times, Prof Murphy said the idea of exhuming Thomas Kent's remains and reburying him with military honours was "surely an ill-conceived and undignified project".

“We could do without another manifestation of this morbid, self-indulgent nationalist propensity,” wrote Prof Murphy, Emeritus Professor of History at UCC in the letter on June 25th last.

Describing the use of DNA technology as adding to the macabre nature of the project, Prof Murphy pointed out that what was Victoria Barracks is now Collins Barracks and a base of the Irish Army.

“This revolutionary change was brought about by the ultimate sacrifice of men like Thomas Kent and it makes the present location, with a suitable monument, a proper and final resting place for the patriot. Never was the phrase ‘rest in peace’ more apt than in this instance,” he wrote.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times