Kenny’s graveside oration to set tone for 1916 commemorations

Taoiseach’s speech at Thomas Kent’s funeral shows desire to control anniversary events

The decision of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to deliver the graveside oration at the state funeral of Thomas Kent tomorrow is a clear signal of the Government's intention to keep control of the 1916 commemorations.

Government sources said the Taoiseach’s oration will be designed to set the tone for how the various commemorative events over the coming year will be spoken about and treated.

Kent's remains will be reinterred in the graveyard at the Co Cork village of Castlelyons having been exhumed from the grounds of Cork Prison where he was buried after his execution in 1916.

Apart from Roger Casement, who was executed in London, Kent was the only other 1916 rebel to be executed outside Dublin.


Following DNA tests earlier this year, which established that the remains in Cork Prison were those of Kent, his descendants were offered a State funeral to the graveyard in Castlelyons which contains the family plot.

Land struggle

Thomas Kent was born in 1865 at Bawnyard House, Castlelyons, a substantial farm, and was one of nine children – seven boys and two girls.

He emigrated to the United States as a young man, but returned home in his mid-20s and became actively involved in the land struggle.

In 1914 the Kent brothers were among the first recruits to the Cork Brigade of the Irish volunteers.

On May 2nd, 1916, after the collapse of the Rising in Dublin, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary came to their home at Castlelyons as part of a round-up of prominent nationalists around the country.

When the police arrived a gunfight developed when the Kent family resisted arrest. During the firing RIC head constable William Rowe from Fermoy was killed and David Kent was seriously wounded.

The brothers surrendered, but another brother, Richard, then tried to make a dash for freedom and was shot dead by the police.

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 grounds of the Military Detention Barracks, at the rear of Victoria Barracks, which is now Collins Barracks in Cork.

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

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.


The decision to exhume the remains from Cork Prison and afford Kent a State funeral has generated some controversy, with historian John A Murphy criticising the plan.

In a letter to The Irish Times, Prof Murphy said: "We could do without another manifestation of this morbid, self-indulgent nationalist propensity."

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 a base of the Irish Army.

“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.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times