Those who came to pay their respects to Thomas Kent started queuing up more than hour before they were let in to see his coffin at Collins Barracks last night.
First in the queue was Noel Raymond, 47, from Macroom. He said he had always been interested in the history of Thomas Kent and those times.
“I think it’s been forgotten by the last two generations,” he said. “I’m very glad to be part of this. My grandfather and great-grandfather were in the West Cork Brigade [Old IRA].”
The remains of Thomas Kent lying in state at St Michael’s garrison church at Collins Barracks, Cork. Video: David Keane
Jack O’Leary came with his wife, Rena, who is a distant relative of Kent and who remembers many years ago visiting Bawnard House, where Kent and his family fought the RIC on May 2, 1916.
“I’m here to pay my respects to the man and I will attend his funeral as well,” Rena said.
Martin Bryne, 53, from Mayfield brought along his nephews Dan, Sean, and Jamie Meskell.
“I had grand uncles who fought in Ist Brigade A Company [Cork Old IRA] who fought in the War of Independence and as a young fella my father would bring me to Easter Commemorations here,” said Martin. “We were brought up to acknowledge what the guys like Thomas Kent had done and I think it’s important to bring along the younger generation so they can learn about it.”
Thomas Kent’s remains arriving at Collins Barracks Cork ahead of his state funeral in Castlelyons. Video: David Keane
Jamie, 15, agreed and said he was witnessing “a piece of history”.
Pat Coughlan from Old Blackrock Road said he wanted to pay his respects to “one of those who died in the past and who gave us what we have today, which is freedom. This is a one-off piece of history we are witnessing.”
Thomas Kent’s grand nephew Michael Riordan has credited Seán Sherwin for helping the family.
“He was invaluable, he knew who to talk to,” said Mr Riordan.
Mr Sherwin was responsible for exhuming the bodies of the Forgotten 10, also known as the Mountjoy 10. Kevin Barry, Patrick Moran, Frank Flood, Thomas Whelan, Thomas Traynor, Patrick Doyle, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Edmond Foley, and Patrick Maher had all been executed in Mountjoy Prison following court martials in the period 1920 to 1921.
Mr Sherwin was at last night’s lying in state and said it was about “justice finally being done”.
The former Fianna Fáil national organiser said it was allowing the Kent family to finally close a chapter in their history.
“For many years they had tried unsuccessfully to get the remains removed from the prison. It is an honour for me to have coordinated this through various department and government agencies,” he said.
Mr Sherwin said it would not have been possible without the great work of archaeologists Tom Condit, Connie Kelleher, and Finbarr Moore who had excavated the grave and discovered Kent’s remains.
However, he said they still had to await a DNA match from his nieces Kathleen and Prudence.
“We were originally going to send the samples to England, but then we found out the Garda Technical Bureau could do the tests, so we got the results much faster,” he said. “The results only confirmed what we expected. I’m just honoured to have been able to devote my time and effort for this day.”
Bishop John Buckley, who officiated at the prayer service in the barrack’s chapel, said he “was very happy that Thomas Kent was finally being honoured in this way”.
“It’s very appropriate his remains will be buried in Castlelyons, which is always what his family wanted,” Bishop Buckley said.
One of those who will attend today’s funeral Mass in Castlelyons is the daughter of the late democratic giant Tip O’Neill, who had the longest continuous service as Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
Ms O’Neill, a retired US diplomat, said if her father was still alive, “I think he would definitely tip his hat to Thomas Kent... I find myself very humbled to be able to attend this Mass as so many other people won’t be there to see it. It’s wonderful that I can attend on behalf of people in the US who are interested in Irish history.
“It’s interesting that he was one of only two people executed outside of Dublin following the Easter Rising.”
She will be in Mallow library on Saturday to open up an exhibition of archives belonging to her father who died in 1994. Her ancestors emigrated from Mallow to the US in 1846.
In the early hours of May 9, 1916, Thomas Kent received his last meal and spent some time praying in his cell with Fr Patrick Sexton, the chaplain to the military hospital in what was then known as Victoria Barracks.
According to his brother William, when the officer in command of the barracks inquired if he had any request, he asked that his grave be consecrated and that no Irishman be ordered to shoot him. He was then taken from his cell and placed against the wall of the exercise yard. There, clasping rosary beads given to him by Fr Sexton, Cmdt Thomas Kent of the Galtee Battalion of Irish Volunteers awaited his fate.
The garrison church where Kent lay in state was one of the few buildings that wasn’t damaged when Anti-Treaty forces burned the barracks on August 11, 1922 as part of the scorched earth policy they adopted during the later part of the conventional phase of the Civil War.
Thomas Kent’s remains will be moved at 12pm today from the barracks to the grave he was buried in after his execution at Cork prison.
A short private service will be held in the prison before the cortege departs, with full military accompaniment and garda outriders for Kent’s final journey to Castlelyons.
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