Tribute to Tom Kettle (OC 1897) - Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 5th September 2016

Tribute to Tom Kettle

Irish Times readers will have been alerted by this morning’s ‘Irishman’s Diary’ (Monday, September 5th) that the centenary of the death of Old Clongownian Tom Kettle will take place on next Friday, September 9th. Kettle’s life and death have already been remembered at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in the last week as well as during the Clongowes War Graves Trip in September 2014. Further tributes will be paid at Tom Kettle 100, a special seminar in his honour in UCD on Friday morning, where Head of Communications, Mr Declan O’Keeffe will deliver a paper. In the afternoon there will be an official ceremony to commemorate his life at the Thomas Kettle Memorial in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

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. 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. More information here:

Declan O’Keeffe, Head of Communications

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