The dramatic tale of Thomas Kent - the forgotten 1916 Rising patriot

The man who lent his name to Cork city’s railway station, Thomas Kent, was aside from Robert Casement, the only 1916 leader executed outside of Dublin, says Richard Fitzpatrick

Thomas and William Kent being marched by British soldiers across Fermoy bridge

IF YOU trawl the resources of Cork City Library you will find little about Thomas Kent. Not much is known about the man who lends his name to Cork City’s train station. It is something that is being put to rights by a radio drama, Thomas Kent: The Forgotten Patriot to be broadcast on Saturday on Life FM 93.1.

“Always when I was travelling out of Kent Station, I wondered why it was called Kent Station. I thought it was because of something to do with England because Kent is an English name,” says Ferghal Dineen, the writer and director of the drama.

“I had never heard about Thomas Kent until I read a short article in the Evening Echo. I’d never known he was executed in Cork. In the history books at school he was never mentioned. If you walked down Patrick Street and asked people, 95 per cent wouldn’t know his story, and it is quite dramatic.”

Kent was 50 years old when the 1916 Rising happened. He grew up in Castlelyons, a few miles from Fermoy, Co Cork. His family were squeezed off their land by the British Crown’s incremental rate increases. Kent left for Boston in the United States, but returned to Ireland several years later, owing to illness. Himself and his three brothers became radicalised, and were often jailed for their political activities, chiefly their support for the Land League and their membership of the Irish Volunteers.

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“He knew Terence MacSwiney and all the top guys,” says Dineen. “He was a complex character. He was quite religious. He was part of the temperance movement.”

When the Easter Rising kicked off in April 1916, Kent and his brothers obeyed Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order and stayed home, Kent having planned to head to Dublin to fight. In a swoop for known Republican sympathisers, however, the RIC made a dawn raid on the Kent family home in Castlelyons. The Kents resisted arrest and had a shoot-out with the RIC, which lasted four hours. The RIC’s head constable was killed, his face blown off, before the Kents surrendered.

“When they arrested Kent,” says Dineen, “he was paraded through the town of Fermoy a bit like Jesus Christ. His hands were tied and he had no shoes — he wasn’t allowed wear any boots. He was humiliated.

“His mother was 89 and she was cooling down the guns and supplying her sons with ammunition during the raid. They humiliated her as well. She was too old to walk so they put her on a cart with her dying son. The youngest son, his name was Richard. He suffered from his nerves, as they said in those days. He had mental issues. My theory is that he killed the head constable. He was terrified when he was arrested and he ran away and was shot in the back. He was dying. He died about a day later from his wounds.”

 Prue Riordan of Rathcormac, niece of Thomas Kent, at his graveside during the Thomas Kent Memorial Ceremony at Cork Prison.

Kent and one of his brothers, William, were taken to Cork Barracks for trial. Kent, as head of the family, was a goner. The judge in the case was blunt in his assessment of Kent’s predicament.

“You stand before me guilty of the most heinous of crimes against the British Crown. You are guilty of treason. In my view, when a head constable has been murdered, when your brother lost his life, I am left with no option but to sentence you to death by firing squad. You will be taken to Cork Army Barracks where on the ninth of this month you will be shot until you are dead. May God have mercy on your soul. Take him down!”

Kent’s brother, William, got a reprieve. Kent was shot at 4am on May 9, 1916. With the exception of Roger Casement, he was the only 1916 Rising leader to be shot outside Dublin. His dying wish was that no Irishman would be part of the firing squad.

“They didn’t even give him a burial,” says Dineen. “They dug a hole next to where they shot him. Today, there is still a debate about where he is buried. They’re using technology to try to find where exactly he is buried, to give him a proper grave for next year’s 1916 centenary celebrations.”

Thomas Kent: The Forgotten Patriot, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, will be broadcast on 93.1 LifeFM on Saturday May 16 at 5:30pm. www.lifefm.ie.

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