‘Tom Kettle – a household name in Ireland?’ by Donal Kennedy

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Although introduced by Charles Stewart Parnell as someone who was “a household name in Ireland” , Andrew Kettle MP is not recorded in The Dictionary of National Biography, that wonderful collection of lives connected with these islands these past 2,000 years.

The DNB a few years back issued a volume -“Missing Persons” which featured some, the significance of whose lives escaped the Editor’s notice on their deaths. Amongst these were the hero  of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, James Larkin, who died in 1947, and the   1916 leaders, Connolly and Pearse, shot by British  firing squads in 1916. Andrew Kettle’s son Tom, ex-MP for Tyrone, was also shot in 1916. The DNB did not record his death at the time, which is surprising, and by the time Missing Persons was published, by not making good its omission, it fulfilled his prophesy  that he would be regarded as a bloody fool, and Pearse and Connolly as heroes.

.For Tom Kettle was killed by a German bullet, leading a platoon of Dublin Fusiliers which had marched behind the Union Jack to Flanders.

Kettle’s biographer JB Lyons describes him as an Irish Patriot, essayist, poet and British soldier. Robert Lynd, who knew him, said he had the gift of letters and the gift of politics, that he was  “a mathematician, an economist, a barrister and a philosopher, a Bohemian and a scholar.”

JB Lyons called his study “The Enigma of Tom Kettle.”

An enigma he remains to me, like the writer Patrick McGill, who could parade in Khaki on St Patrick’s Day, march to “The Wearin‘ of the Green” and then Stand to .Attention for “God Save The King.”

Lyons records how Kettle, in his Maiden Speech in the House of Commons  argued that the Dublin Metropolitan Police be financed, not by Dublin ratepayers, but by the Imperial War Office. Soon afterwards in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Kettle shared a platform with the old Dynamitard/Terrorist Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and another veteran Fenian who had helped smash the prison van in Manchester when Police Sergeant Brett was shot dead, an incident for which three Fenians were hanged. Yet Kettle was to become the Pied Piper of Ireland, behind whom tens  of thousands of her children were to march to a futile death.

Robert Lynd, ( who incidentally a few months before Kettle’s death, in an appreciation of James Connolly, wrote that Connolly’s  ” was the most vital democratic mind in the Ireland of his day” ) quoted from a poem by  Kettle,  which has been deliberately neglected by his biographer and anthologists alike, which, he said    ” expressed Kettle’s mood to the end.”

The poem, written in reply to an English poet “who had urged the Irish to forget their history and gently cease to be a nation” is called “. Reason and Rhyme”. To do justice to Kettle’s memory, and to those whom he led to Flanders, it should be better known. It would illustrate why it is fitting that both he and O’Donovan Rossa are commemorated in St Stephen’s Green. –



“Bond, from the toil of hate we may not cease;

Free, we are free to be your friend;

And when you make your banquet and we come,

Soldier with equal soldier must we sit,

Closing a battle, not forgetting it.

With not a name to hide,

This mate and mother of valiant “rebels” dead

Must come with all her history on her head.

We keep the past for pride:

No deepest peace shall strike our poets dumb:

No rawest squad of all Death’s volunteers,

No rudest man who died

To tear your flag down in the bitter years,

But shall have praise, and three times thrice again,

When at the table men shall drink with men.








3 Responses to ‘Tom Kettle – a household name in Ireland?’ by Donal Kennedy

  1. Brian Patterson October 29, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    Like the County Meath poet, Thomas Francis Ledwidge, Kettle was moved by the crocodile tears shed over poor gallant little Catholic Belgium. this, even though Belgians shed few tears at the deaths if a million murdered Congolese. He believed he was fighting for European civilisation even though that ‘civilisation’ was built on exploitation and murder of subject peoples.
    Was Kettle at one stage employed as a propagandist at the British War Office?seem to remember reading that somewhere.
    Be that is it may he was a formidable poet and one could not fail to be moved by the lines he wrote for and to his young daughter; it goes something like this: “know that we who died, fought not for king nor flag nor emperor, but for a dream born in a herdsman’s shed and the secret scriptures of the poor’. If only he and Ledwidge had stayed at home to write poetry we might have remembered them as major rather than minor poets.

  2. Perkin Warbeck October 29, 2015 at 6:45 pm #

    The indelible lines from ‘The Foggy Dew’ by Canon Charles O’Neill, come to mind on reading about Tom Kettle.

    -Twere better to die neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud el Bar’

    The PP of Kilcoo was prompted to pen the words to a traditional melody when attending the inaugural sitting of the first Dail in 1919 and hearing the names of those absent being greeted with ‘faoi ghlas ag Gaill’ /’ imprisoned by the Lobsterbacks’.

    ‘Sa Bhearna Baoil’ is another of those phrases in less than fashionable leprechaun which the Poppy-wearers and others of a provincial mindset associate with the Back-stabbers of Easter 1916.. It features in Amhran na bhFiann, the soon to be former national anthem/ antrim/ tantrum and translates not as Barney Boyle but rather as ‘the Gap of Danger’.

    Curiously enough, one always associates ‘An Bhearna Bhaoil’ with one of the Kettle clan, Andy. (Andy was a direct descendant of Andrew Kettle, MP, Tom’s father). It happened in the early Sixties during the Leinster Under 15 Colleges Final in Kells,Royal Meath..

    Dublin’s O’Connell’s School’s netminder leaked three goals in the first ten minutes. Longford’s St.Mel’s pell mell forward line were confronted with a sieve rather than a save. The unfortunate goalie got the crooked finger from the sideline and the O’Connell’s number 7 replaced him in ‘the Gap of Danger’.

    That was Andy Kettle. And while he successfully battened down the hatch it was too late to save the match. O’C, O’C, O’CS, will we win, yes,yes, yes, not.

    The gregarious Andy grew up to resemble a homely mustachioed owner of a Mom and Pop shop in a Norman Rockwell print. And met with greater sporting success as a charismatic Chairman of the Dublin GAA Board. Instigating such initiatives as The Spring Series in Croke Park.

    Sadly, Andy passed upstairs to the Celestial Corporate Box earlier this year, thus missing out on the return of Samuel L. Maguire to his natural zip code.

    One mentions this for there is currently being waged on Liffeyside on the astro-turf of the monopoly media an engrossing game of political ping pong, The sporting image is not accidental.

    In the last month,for instance, to great hooh-hah a book was launched with the title (gulp) ‘Ireland’s Call’. About the gallant (non Easter) egg-chasers and other plucky ruckers who fell in the same Killing Fields as Tom Kettle and similar to those later ploughed by Pol Pot.

    The subliminal message being: backward passes good, backstabbers bad.

    No dissenting voice was raised. In fact one rather animated former high ranking officer of Oglaigh na hEireann (official version) got his epaulettes in a pretty twist by somewhat hysterically lauding those who willingly put down the oval-shaped ball to take up the Q’s Shilling in 14-18.

    I know, I know. The rules of rugby are just as baffling to Perkie’s poor inner Paddy Stink as the rules of engagement.

    -‘Crouch, touch pause, engage’ is about as far as one can get. After that is a muddled mixture of the Sorrowful, Joyless and Inglorious Mysteries of mud, muck and muscle.Every bit as much a mystery as the leprechaun version of the Soldier’s Song is to those Shoulder to Shoulder Songsters is, after the first four words:’Sinne Fianna Fail ata…’.

    Like his b.f.f. James Joyce,Tom Kettle transferred from the school of the Paddy Stinks and Mickey Mudds (O’Connell ‘s School) to that of Clongowes Wood of would-be Freddie Threepwoods, Rupert Psmiths and Gussie Fink-Nottles.

    Andy Kettle stayed put, whistling dixie.

    In other words, the rather tame early exit of the game but limited Goys in Green from the Rugby World Cup has been greeted with groans and moans and ullagones form the GAH fraternity.

    For the reasons which follow in 3-D:

    -it Diminishes the chances of the IRFU converting their try for the Rugby World Cup, 2023.

    -it De-escalates the possibilities of finally finishing the unfinished end of Croke Park (the Edwin Drood End.) in time for the William Webb-Ellis Cup, www. A finish fit for the gym bunnies of Alickadoodom.

    -it Dilutes the prospects of Paddy Stink and other stickfighters not to mention the potentialities of the Mickey Mudds and other bogballers continuing to play at Incomplete Central, not.



  3. Donal Kennedy November 3, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    My father worked in the Land Commission with Tom Kettle’s brother Charliefrom the mid-forties to the early 1950s. I met Charlie Kettle, whom my father always referred to as Mr Kettle, so I imagine he was older than my father.
    My younger brother, a keen hurler and footballer was a classmate and friend of the recently
    deceased Andy Kettle in O’Connell Schools.