As a piper played a lament, sheets of rain shrouded the tears of relatives yesterday in the yard of the Old Cork Prison where the 1916 rebel Thomas Kent was executed 100 years ago.

While family and admirers stood in silent contemplation, prayers for the commander of the Galtee Brigade of the Irish Volunteers were read out by Defence Forces chaplain Fr Gerry O’Neill and Irish Prison Service chaplain Fr Alan Kelly.

Tributes were made by Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe, Defence Forces Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Mark Mellett and Brigader General Philip Brennan.

“One hundred years on, we are challenged to live up to the ideals and aspirations of Kent and the others who fought,” said Mr Kehoe. “Thomas Kent longed for a free Irish Republic. Today we live in a free Irish Republic.”

At the spot in the prison yard where he was executed, wreaths were placed by Kent’s niece Kathleen, and his grandniece Nora, accompanied by an honour guard of Cpl Alan Dully and Cpl Peter O’Flynn.

Nieces of Thomas Kent, Prudence and Cathleen Kent, in his cell at Cork Prison yesterday. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Nieces of Thomas Kent, Prudence and Cathleen Kent, in his cell at Cork Prison yesterday. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Kent was one of only two rebels executed outside Dublin, the other being Roger Casement, who was hanged in London.

Later in the afternoon, the sombre ceremony gave way to a lively afternoon as an open day in Kent’s honour was held at Collins’ Barracks. It had all the elements of a funfair as hundreds of schoolchildren invaded the parade ground.

It was history in motion as army personnel told those gathered the story of the barracks and how it came to be named after General Michael Collins.

The might of military equipment took the eye but it was the display of space-age food stuffs that excited some children the most. An Army diver explained how he could heat up his chicken korma simply by putting it in his pocket and then showed them a spork, his most useful equipment in the field that combines the elements of a spoon and a fork and makes a Swiss Army knife look positively quaint.

Tadgh Murphy of Kilbonane National School, Aherla, with Barry O’Callaghan after the commemoration ceremony. Picture: Clare Keogh
Tadgh Murphy of Kilbonane National School, Aherla, with Barry O’Callaghan after the commemoration ceremony. Picture: Clare Keogh

Nearby, an exhausted soldier performed his last of hundreds of high-fives as the children filed by. “That’s me done now,” he said, looking as if he would rather have faced the enemy than these tireless youngsters.

Through it all, the Band of the Southern Command outgunned the roar of military police motorbikes with everything from ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ to ‘Highland Cathedral’, a slow air written for the bagpipes and featuring the lone piper who played movingly at the memorial service in the morning.

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