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The execution of Thomas Kent on May 9, 1916, was a crude exercise in propaganda, far removed from the moral force of the scales of justice, on the part of Major General JG Maxwell, the military governor at a time when the civil governance of the country was in a state of chaotic dissolution.
It is also hard to be persuaded that the proposal to grant Kent, a 51-year old unmarried man who was not involved in the Rising, a State funeral is not a politically inspired propaganda stunt with an eye to getting out the local vote in the general election.
The charges faced by Kent, in a hastily convened drumhead court martial presided over by Major RGA Jeffreys were similar to the charges levied at those executed in Dublin — ‘that he did take part in an armed rebellion for the purpose of assisting the enemy’.
The British PM HH Asquith declared on May 6 May that “death should not be inflicted except on ringleaders and proved murderers”. Asquith took on the vacant role of chief secretary of Ireland on May 11, two days after the execution of Kent, and on a visit to Cork quipped that it should have been made clear that Kent was executed for the murder of a policeman — a remark intended to assuage the Irish Parliamentary Party and galvanise public opinion here and in the US.
But the court martial only heard that ‘shots were fired from Bawnard House in the most deliberate manner’. There was no evidence that Thomas Kent murdered head constable William Rowe and the house was occupied by three Kent brothers and their mother at the time; nor could Thomas Kent be defined as a ‘ringleader’ in the Rising.
Truth needs to triumph in commemoration. If the Government really wish to honour Kent and not merely engage in a self-serving, soft focus, political ritual would they not, in the first instance, obtain official recognition from the British authorities that this so-called trial, without appeal, meant Kent was subjected to a grotesque miscarriage of justice that has neither been challenged or even questioned by the State? What moral force can a State funeral have if it is haunted by a spectre basted in myth, fable and fuzzy folklore in the presence of a posse of foreign diplomats?
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