A Letter From Ireland – January 2016

With the advent of a new year, my mood frequently vacillates between hopeful and helpless. This year is no exception. My wife, Mary Ann, is on the road to recovering from a knee replacement as we plan for a long visit back to Ireland in March. I’m also having success recuperating from heart surgery, vowing, once again, to lose a few pounds and regain some measure of lost fitness. I also must make a commitment to finishing my fifth novel or stop kidding myself. That’s all on the plus side.
On the other hand, world events especially in Paris, San Bernardino, Charleston, Roseburg and sadly, too many others, give me pause, wondering what this old world is becoming. ISIL or Daesh continues spreading its venomous intimidations while their virulent campaign of hatred and death casts an ominous shroud over the entire civilised world. Sure, it’s not a pretty picture, but we must persevere, keep the bright side out, and refuse to submit to any campaign of fear or hate mongering.
In reflection, I’m certain we share many of the same feelings America experienced back in the spring of 1865. Turmoil, confusion, worry and uncertainty must have rained down on both Confederate and Union adherents as the US Civil War finally ground to a close. But, Abraham Lincoln, knowing his country’s despair, stepped forward…most notably at Gettysburg on 19 November 1863. He spoke of a new birth of freedom, conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality. He challenged the living that America, under God, will uphold a government of, by and for the people.
Fifty-three years later, another president, an Irish president, Pádraig Henry Pearse, spoke of similar ideals while standing before Dublin’s General Post Office on 24 April 1916, signalling the beginning of Ireland’s Easter Rebellion. The courageous leader of the newly established Irish Republic, much as Lincoln had before him in Pennsylvania, asserted Ireland’s right to independence, sovereignty, freedom and its exaltation among nations. Pearse pledged his nation’s intent to grant religious and civil liberties, while establishing full rights and equal opportunities to all under the protection of God the most high.
Comparing Lincoln’s Address and Pearse’s Proclamation, I’m struck by their similarities of intent and dedicated purpose. The parallel between these two men doesn’t end with their promises to their respective people. On 15 April, only six days after Lincoln rejoiced at the formal declaration of peace between North and South, he died from an assassin’s bullet while Pearse’s fate was as equally dramatic. Just nine days after reading his Proclamation, Pádraig Pearse was murdered by a British military firing squad.
Later, a banner on the facade of Washington, DC’s Ford Theatre, the site of Lincoln’s assassination, declared “The Nation Mourns” while in Dublin a sign affixed to Liberty Hall soon after the 1916 leaders were executed read, “James Connolly murdered 12 May 1916.” [Connolly along with Pearse led the Dublin 1916 Rebellion.]
Regardless of your feelings about these two devoted leaders, whether you glorify or demonise them, Lincoln and Pearse stand head and shoulders above their peers. They deserve the acclaim of their nations.
Speaking of honoured heroes, the Irish Government recently paid a fitting tribute to a fallen ‘forgotten hero’ in Castlelyons [near Fermoy] in Co. Cork on Friday, 18 September.
After petitions by his family, first to the British then to the Irish Government, the body of Irish Volunteer Thomas Kent, executed by a British firing squad on 9 May 1916 for his “participation in an armed rebellion” in the aftermath of Easter Week 1916, was finally laid to rest in his family’s vault.
Kent, a Volunteer whose family had a long tradition of fighting against the injustices suffered by small farmers dating back to the Land Wars of the 1880s, had not taken up arms during the 1916 Rebellion. However, he was arrested following a fire-fight with police when his family resisted being arrested during a general round-up of nationalist agitators on 2 May. [Apart from the remarkable story of Roger Casement, Thomas Kent was the only person outside of Dublin executed for his role in events surrounding Easter Week.]
After arrest, Thomas and his brother were transported to Victoria Barracks in Cork City. There, Thomas was tried by military court-martial, found guilty and promptly executed by a firing squad. Afterwards, his body was unceremoniously buried in a shallow, quicklime grave inside the prison confines where it remained undisturbed until this year. All attempts to have his body exhumed and moved to the family plot in Castlelyons were previously unsuccessful.
Finally, with plans for the 1916 Centenary underway, the Irish Government decided to honour the final member of the oft-quoted ‘executed sixteen.’ Thus, as one of the pre-Easter 2016 events, a state funeral was planned for September 18th.
Members of the Kent family led the mourners on a cloudy, mild day. Most fittingly, many dignitaries were present to pay their final respects including Irish President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin and Sinn Féin head Gerry Adams. An honour guard of Irish military presided along with the Bishop of Cloyne, William Crean.
Delivering the graveside oration, the Taoiseach spoke most eloquently, citing Thomas’s zeal for life and his profound conviction for finally gaining Irish freedom. He noted Thomas’s courage, dignity and self-sacrifice, stating that Ireland needs more people who put their country ahead of personal ambition.
After a military rifle salute and the haunting notes of “The Last Post”, this 1916 Volunteer was fittingly laid to rest in a touching ceremony that certainly must have provided closure to many, especially for members of the Kent family. A true feeling of national pride and passionate Irish patriotism permeated the assembled throng.
So, with Kent’s reburial, following as it did on this summer’s powerful tribute to O’Donovan Rossa, the Irish Government must be congratulated for their well-planned staging of events in the run-up to Easter, 2016. Happy New Year, Cathal

2 Responses to “A Letter From Ireland – January 2016”

  1. Dear Cathal
    I have enjoyed reading your articles in ianOhio since the magazine was first started. Best of luck and good health to you now that you are no longer doing articles for them. In your January article, you mentioned the funeral service for Thomas Kent. My relatives in Ireland go back to Mullintoura, which is near Fermoy. My cousin Catherine wore the medals awarded to my Uncle Jack Collins. It was a proud day for the Kent family and all the Irish.

    • cathalladmin says:

      Maurice, So good to hear from you and for personal comments. Indeed it was a grand day long overdue. Keep well and God bless, Cathal

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