A family funeral first, but also a state funeral.
Just as his nieces had wished, the theme of Thomas Kent’s funeral Mass was a celebration of more than just a man who had died with a dream of Irish freedom.
With President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the fore of one row of political and public representatives, there was a separation of sorts from the opposite side of the aisle in the small St Nicholas’s Church in Castlelyons, Co Cork.
Behind Prudence Riordan, Kathleen Kent, and other close descendants, the narrow pews were filled with members of Kent, Riordan, Walsh, and other families connected to the executed 1916 rebel. Kent was being brought home 99 years after he was marched shoeless over the bridge in nearby Fermoy, then later tried and executed on May 9, 1916, after being convicted by a military court in Cork City on charges of “waging war against His Majesty the King”.
Grand-niece Nora Riordan, nieces Kathleen Kent and Prudence Riordan, and grand-nephew Michael Riordan at the burial.
British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott was there yesterday, along with other diplomatic representatives, US ambassador Kevin O’Malley and others. But the service was not entirely about the themes of reconciliation that could have been the sole focus of such an occasion.
The gifts that were brought to the altar by members of the Riordan and O’Flynn families, reflected some of the non-political aspects of Kent’s life. They included a copy of Mo Scéal Féin, a book by an tAthair Peadar Ua Laoghaire, also buried in the churchyard outside. As local parish priest, he was summoned to the Kent home at Bawnard House on the morning of May 2, 1916, after the police raid that led to the death there of Royal Irish Constabulary head constable William Rowe, and what would turn out to be the fatal wounding of Thomas Kent’s brother Richard, who tried to escape after the family’s surrender.
Margaret O’Brien told the 400-strong congregation the book represented Kent’s love of the Irish language and his activities with Conradh na Gaeilge, through which he worked to promote Irish culture. She spoke in Irish of the satisfaction it brought the family to have Kent back in his native place, and to be among his own people, as a photo of Bawnard House was brought to the altar.
To signify his deep religious conviction, the rosary beads which Kent had clutched as he faced his death were also brought up. They were taken from his dead hand by a solider at Cork military detention barracks, somehow found their way back to his family, and have for many years been on display at Cork Public Museum.
Acknowledging Kent’s adherence to the total abstinence movement, Emmet Riordan brought to the altar a pioneer pin that had belonged to the patriot’s nephew, also Thomas Kent, who passed away last year before he could see the proud family moment.
Military historian Gerry White’s eulogy outlined the events that led to Kent’s arrest and his execution, but he spoke also of a man who had no history of violence or resistance during any of his previous arrests for involvement in earlier movements.
His final orders from Irish Volunteer headquarters, what motived the Kent family to resist on that fateful day in May 1916, would never be known, he said.
“However, in acting as they did, they were actually following an order to resist arrest that had been issued the Wednesday before the Rising by Eoin MacNeill, the Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers,” he told the packed congregation of barely 400 people.
A company quartermaster sergeant at Collins Barracks, Mr White said it is important, as what happened at Easter 1916 is examined and debated, to remember we live in a different country and in a rapidly changing world that presents its own challenges.
“However, as we face those challenges we can and should be inspired by the ideals of patriotism and self-sacrifice that motivated Thomas Kent, his family, and the men and women of 1916,” he said.
The coffin being brought out of St Nicholas’s Church in Castlelyons, Co Cork.
In his homily, Catholic Bishop of Cloyne William Crean spoke of the cruel instruments of violence and war, wreaking havoc and tragedy in the lives of so many today, leaving deep scars of sadness and loss, which call out for retribution and revenge.
“When we recall the patriot/martyrs of the Easter Rising and thereafter a certain tentative mood prevails in our time, uncertain of the worth of violent resistance,” he said.
But, the bishop said, Jesus chose Simon the zealot as one of his apostles. Those who seek to right injustice and oppression are people of zeal in the best sense of the word, he said, and Kent’s zeal was evident in every facet of his life.
“He and his compatriots dreamed the dream of freedom,” said Bishop Crean. “They yearned to feel its bracing freshness in which identity, culture, language, and commerce could prosper and flourish. It is a source of immense gratitude to God that we in our time can witness the dawn of peace and engage in the difficult task of reconciliation.”
Earlier, prison officers at Cork Prison formed an honour guard at a family prayer ceremony at the spot where Kent lay for 100 years in a shallow grave. The funeral cortege then departed for Castlelyons almost 30km away, through Thomas Kent Park next to the prison, downhill towards Cork City and past Kent Station, renamed in his honour on the 50th anniversary of the Rising.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams had laid a wreath at a bust of Kent in the station, and he later sat through the funeral Mass near Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and former taoiseach Brian Cowen. They were among dozens of current and past TDs, senators and MEPs, Government members and ministers of state, including Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton, and Defence Minister Simon Coveney. The invited guests also included members of the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women Ireland, ex-members of the Defence Forces.
With a volley of British military gunfire, Kent had fallen clutching a rosary beads in May 1916. And with a three-volley salute of Irish military gunfire, Kent was laid to rest with family members on September 18, 2015. The coffin lowered, the Tricolour was raised to the sound of the Last Post and the bugle-call Reveille, and the flag that draped his coffin handed by an army sergeant to the family. Kent’s nieces who — in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s words — “tended the flame of his memory”, had finally seen their wishes come true.
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