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Thousands pay tribute to sacrifice of Thomas Kent 99 years after execution

Published 18/09/2015

Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivering an oration during the state funeral of executed rebel Thomas Kent at St Nicholas Church in Castlelyons, Co Cork
Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivering an oration during the state funeral of executed rebel Thomas Kent at St Nicholas Church in Castlelyons, Co Cork

Ireland has remembered Thomas Kent for his courage, dignity, defiance and sacrifice.

Ninety-nine years after his execution and interment in the then British Army's Victoria Barracks in Cork, Taoiseach Enda Kenny used the graveside oration to urge people to draw inspiration from him.

Thousands of people lined streets and gathered in the village of Castlelyons for tributes and honour to be bestowed on the nationalist and Land League activist who was long considered unsung hero.

The Taoiseach told the crowds: "Today in our time we are not called on to die for our country. But even now, even with our freedom, in our own and in a very different time, we need men and women who believe. We need men and women who believe in community, who believe in country, in putting others before themselves."

Mr Kenny also said next year's centenary of the 1916 Rising would remember all those who died in the revolution, including Kent's brother Richard and Royal Irish Constable William Rowe, both of whom died in the gun battle when forces tried to arrest the Kents.

The State funeral was held with the wishes of Thomas Kent's descendants with burial in the family plot in the grounds of St Nicholas Church.

It was attended by President Michael D Higgins, Tanaiste Joan Burton, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, and British ambassador Dominick Chilcott, US ambassador Kevin O'Malley and Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown.

The Tricolour which draped Kent's coffin was handed to his descendants as the oration was given.

Mr Kenny said: "Let us therefore think of Thomas Kent not only as a patriot, a nationalist, a commandant, a volunteer but also as a neighbour, a friend, a brother, an uncle, a son.

"We think of him as a 50-year-old ordinary and extraordinary man from Castlelyons whom we still hope still heard birdsong on those early summer nights and in the fox light of his final morning.

"The politics, the virtue, the sacrifice of Thomas Kent can never be abstracted from their human context.

"He and all who gave their lives stirred something deep and essential in those who had been previously hostile or indifferent."

The Taoiseach recalled Kent's death and treatment ahead of his execution.

He was taken from the family home Bawnard House where the firefight took place and marched, reportedly in his stocking feet, to Fermoy with one of his brothers David. Another brother Richard, an athlete, was shot as he tried to escape and later died.

Mary, the mother, followed in a horse and cart.

Thomas Kent subsequently faced a court martial in Cork city for armed rebellion after resisting arrest and was sentenced to death.

Mr Kenny said his execution on May 9 1916 was "a matter of national memory".

The funeral service saw Thomas Kent's life represented with a picture of the family home, rosary beads, a pioneer pin and a "leabhair gaeilge" representing his interests in life.

He was a religious man, a supporter of the temperance movement and a fervent activist in the Land League and promoter of Gaelic culture and sports.

Kent's remains were exhumed from the grounds of Cork Prison where he was buried after his execution.

DNA tests confirmed the identity and he has been laid to rest next to family members.

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