COUNTY Cork-born Thomas Kent has been Ireland’s forgotten patriot for almost 100 years. It took a State funeral last September to get his name into the public domain. Though he was the 13th of the 16 men executed in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, he was the only man executed in Cork.
The life of this Irish patriot is the latest subject of a book by West Cork native, historian and author Meda Ryan. When publishers, O’Brien Press asked her to do a book on Thomas Kent, she agreed instantly. ‘Though knowing little or nothing about him or his family’, she says. ‘I thought it would be a simple task, but I found it required much intense research’.
Meda discovered an extraordinary Irish man ‘with great humanity, intelligence, love of Ireland and who, with his brothers, did so much for the plight of others’. Thomas Kent was the fourth-eldest of nine children born to David Kent and Mary Rice, tenant farmers, steeped in the IRB-Fenian tradition. ‘He was only aged 10 when his father (44) died. Life in rural Cork was difficult in the late 1870s for his widowed mother with a young family.
‘In his early teens Thomas joined the Land League. Aged 17, he emigrated to Boston, got employment in a book publishing and furniture business. His life in Boston is most interesting’, Meda says, ‘because of his inter-action with Irish-American cultural groups, and the formation of an “Irish School” plus his writing in the Boston Irish Echo’.
The trial of his four brothers for orchestrating a boycotting campaign brought him home suddenly in 1889. Leaving behind a girlfriend and his newly-formed publishing company, he with his brothers got immersed in the Land War.
Thomas’s friends included many West Cork men, especially the Knocknacurra Hales family whom he often visited. ‘From the founding of the Volunteers (1913) they all trained in Cork’s Volunteers Hall. They were together at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral. Thomas, as Galtee Brigade Commandant, and Tom Hales, West Cork Brigade Commandant, worked closely with Terence MacSwiney in the 1916 lead-up’, according to Meda, who put a book that she had been writing about the Hales family ‘on the back burner’ while working on the Thomas Kent book.
She intends returning to this life-long project that incorporates her many interviews with Bill Hales and other West Cork volunteers. Meda says ‘both Kents and Hales families have many links’.
Thomas Kent and his brothers, dedicated to gaining Independence for Ireland refused to surrender when the RIC banged on the door at 2am on May 2nd, 1916. In the shoot-out that followed, lasting over four hours, including military bombardment, their home was wrecked. David was severely wounded. During the arrest of the brothers, Richard, a famous athlete (friend of Bob Hales) tried to escape and was mortally wounded.
‘Next morning at 2am on May 3rd, when the military banged at the Knocknacurra door, Bill Hales grabbed his gun. MacSwiney (there overnight) tilted it: “Look what happened the Kents!” he snapped. “Like them we can’t fight our way out”. Bob, next door, snatched his gun. MacSwiney burst in. “Hold your fire! The Kents!” he shouted’.
Following the great round-up, the Hales and many of Thomas’s West Cork friends were in their cells when they heard the shots from the exercise yard at dawn on May 9th in Cork Military Detention Barracks. The shots which rang out that morning were from the firing squad who executed patriot, Thomas Kent.Meda Ryan’s book: 16 Lives: Thomas Kent, is published by O’Brien Press.