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Tom Kettle: the death of Irish nationalist and British soldier
Front page memorial to Professor Tom Kettle Photo: Irish Life, 29 Sept 1916. Full collection of Irish Life available from the National Library of Ireland.

Tom Kettle: the death of Irish nationalist and British soldier

Brilliant scholar and former MP is killed in action in France

Dublin, 24 September 1916 - Lieutenant Thomas Kettle has been killed in France, while serving with the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. News of the death of the former MP and university professor on 9 September was only confirmed by the War Office on 18 September in a short message, which read: 'Lieutenant T.M. Kettle, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was killed in action on September 9th.’

Dublin-born and educated, Lt Kettle – described in a Freeman’s Journal editorial as ‘one of the most brilliant minds of his generation in Ireland’ – was a man of varied interests and overlapping careers.

A qualified barrister and a prolific writer, he was elected an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for East Tyrone in a July 1906 by-election, retaining his seat in the first election of 1910. Appointed as Professor of National Economics at University College Dublin in October 1909, he decided against contesting the second election of 1910. A supporter of Dublin’s locked out workers during their bitter strike in 1913, he joined the Irish Volunteers before, on the outbreak of war, rallying to the call to defend Belgium against German invasion. Kettle’s nationalism was undimmed by the events of recent years and he spoke frequently on Irish recruiting platforms in the belief that it was in Ireland’s interest.

Top row L-R, Tom Kettle while at UCD and Tom Kettle with the UCD Choral Union. Bottom row L-R, Tom Kettle with the University College Dublin Cui Bono Club and Tom Kettle sitting on a deck chair in a garden. (Image: Curran Collection, UCD Digital Library)

Although critical of the recent rebellion in Dublin, which saw the death of his brother-in-law Francis Sheehy Skeffington, Thomas Kettle attended the court-martial and gave evidence in support of Professor Eoin MacNeill. As the Freeman’s Journal has put it, the ‘tragedies of this dark time include none more poignant than this’.

Lt Kettle only left Ireland for France in July and was involved in the heavy fighting that has been taking place in the Guillemont-Ginchy region. He was killed while leading his men in an attack on enemy positions in Ginchy.  Kettle was among a number of men struck down in a ‘tempest of fire’. According to one eyewitness account, Lt Kettle ‘dropped to the earth and made an effort to effort to get up.’ It appears he was struck again, this time fatally. It was, The Irish Times has stated, a ‘fine ending, and a fine example to the young men of Ireland’. One staff officer, who has since returned wounded from France, has described Kettle as ‘one of the finest officers we had with us. The men worshipped him, and would have followed him to the ends of the earth. He was an exceptionally brave and capable officer, who always had the interests of his men at heart.’

What is apparent is that the admiration of the Irish troops for their distinguished commander was fully reciprocated. In a letter to his wife, one of many written in the days before his death, Lt Kettle lauded the bravery of the troops for which he was responsible. ‘I have never seen anything in my life so beautiful as the keen and, so to say, radiant valour of my Dublin Fusiliers. There is something divine in men like that.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.