They came from as far away as Zambia to pay their respects to patriot Thomas Kent and witness a unique piece of history as he was finally reinterred in his rightful resting place nearly 100 years after being executed by the British.
Nearly 4,000 people attended his state funeral in Castlelyons, Co Cork, yesterday and many believed they should have witnessed the day many years ago, questioning why it had taken so long to bring his remains home.
Bernie Metzger, nee Hallihan, was born in the village but emigrated to Zambia in 1985 and married a German.
She said she timed her visit home to coincide with the funeral. “I wanted to be here,” she said. “It’s a big event for Castlelyons. I grew up with the history of the Kents and Bawnard House. I’m delighted for the family, this should have happened years ago.”
John Mullins was officially there in his capacity as chairman of the Port of Cork, but said he’d have come anyway because of a connection.
“My grandmother, Margaret Corcoran, was on the bridge in Fermoy when Thomas Kent was led over it [by British troops after his capture],” he said. “She was 17 at the time. She joined Cumman na mBan. She was a tough woman, I can tell you. I would have come here for that reason alone.”
Paddy Barry made the trip from Thurles. He was born in the neighbouring village of Rathcormac and knew Kent’s nieces and their brother, also Thomas Kent, who died last year.
“I came here as a mark of respect for the Kents,” he said. “It’s a national scandal that his remains weren’t dug up years ago. If he was a Dub maybe that wouldn’t have been the case.”
Tim and Marie O’Shaughnessy, from Togher in Cork City, were delighted Kent “got a good send-off”.
They also said it should have happened years ago and believed the catalyst for Kent getting the honour he deserved was the upcoming centenary of the Rising.
Philip Ward came from Belfast with friends, including Lenny Laverty from Downpatrick. The previous day, they had visited Béal na mBláth, where Michael Collins was shot dead.
“I was at Kevin Barry’s funeral in Dublin,” Philip said. “I’ve always had an interest in history and I was always going to come to this state funeral as it’s a piece of Irish history.”
“I think his body should have been exhumed years ago,” Lenny added. “Still, it’s good to see him finally back where he belongs in his home village.”
Father and son Frank and David Farrell travelled from Portlaoise. Frank was a captain in the Reserve Defence Forces for 40 years and has a keen interest in military history.
“I don’t think the people of Ireland realise how important a piece of history this is,” David said. “Thomas Kent fought to have this country free. The pity is we are being run by Europe now.”
Pat Lehane travelled from Mallow with his wife, Sheila, and described himself as a Fianna Fáil republican.
“I’ve no connection with the Kent family,” he said. “But this is a piece of history. I’m a bit disappointed with the size of the crowd.”
As the funeral cortege, led by 24 garda and army motorcycle outriders, pulled up past a large army guard of honour, Jim Behan maintained Commandant Thomas Kent would have been very impressed with the military involvement.
Across the road, a group of locals had erected large Tricolours and ‘Erin Go Bragh’ flags with not quite the same military precision as the professionals they were looking down on. But, nevertheless, it added to the colour.
Jim made the trip from Cashel. His late father fought in the Old IRA in Eadestown, Co Kildare. “You will never witness anything like this again. I think this State grew up today,” he said.
Timmy Lordan of Newcestown and Billy Piper and Maurice O’Donovan of Bandon, were equally impressed with the military turnout.
“My granduncle, Matt O’Donovan, was shot dead by the Tans at Quarry Cross in Newcestown in 1921,” Maurice said.
“Thomas Kent was a martyr. He fought for us and that’s why we’re here today,” Timmy added.
Dick Mackessy, a member of the Castlelyons 1916 Commemoration Committee, said a special effort had been put into having the village looking well.
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