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CWGC remembers poet on centenary of his death

07 September 2016

Poet Thomas ‘Tom’ Michael Kettle was a Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He died during the Somme Offensive on 9 September, 1916, aged 36, during the Battle of Ginchy.

Tom Kettle is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

Tom was born on 9 February 1880 at Artane, County Dublin, the seventh of twelve children of Andrew Joseph and Margaret Kettle of Newtown, St. Margaret's, County Dublin.

Educated at a Christian Brothers' School in Dublin, and later at Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, Tom went to University College, Dublin in 1897, where he graduated in mental and moral science and won the gold medal for oratory.

After a year spent on the Continent, he entered the King’s Inns as a law student in 1902. In 1905 he became joint editor of The Nationalist, a weekly review of Irish thoughts and affairs.

In 1906 he was called to the Bar and elected to Parliament in a by-election representing East Tyrone as a member of the Irish Party in the House of Commons, winning his seat by just 18 votes.  

Whilst serving as an MP, Tom was appointed professor of economics in the National University of Ireland in 1909. That year he married Mary Sheehy and they lived at 3 Belgrave Park, Rathmines, Dublin. They had one child, Elisabeth (Betty), born in 1913.

In the pre-war years, Tom continued to write essays and pamphlets and was one of the prominent Irishmen identified with the foundation of the National Volunteers. Indeed, when war broke out, he was in Belgium buying rifles for them.

In August and September 1914, he acted as war correspondent of the Daily News (London) in Belgium and France.

On his return to Ireland in November, Tom volunteered for active service in the Army, but with his oratorical gifts and position as a Nationalist he was commissioned into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and sent across Ireland as a recruiting spokesmen.

In 1916 he was sent to France with the 9th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, arriving on 14th July.

He fought on the Somme at the battle of Guillemont and Ginchy where he acted with distinction.

At 4.45pm on 9 September the attack on Ginchy began. One of Tom’s comrades, James Dalton, wrote:

‘…I was just behind Tom when we went over the top. He was in a bent position and a bullet got over a steel waistcoat that he wore and entered his heart. Well, he only lasted about one minute…’

A few days before his death Tom had written the following note for publication: Had I lived, I had meant to call my next book on the relations of Ireland and England 'The Two Fools: A Tragedy of Errors.'

‘It has needed all the folly of England and all the folly of Ireland to produce the situation in which our unhappy country is now involved.

‘I have mixed much with Englishmen and with Protestant Ulstermen, and I know that there is no real or abiding reason for the gulfs, salter than the sea, that now dismember the natural alliance of both of them with us Irish Nationalists. It needs only a Fiat lux! of a kind very easily compassed, to replace the un-natural by the natural.

‘In the name, and by the seal, of the blood given in the last two years, I ask for Colonial Home Rule for Ireland, a thing essential in itself, and essential as a prologue to the reconstruction of the Empire. Ulster will agree. And I ask for the immediate withdrawal of martial law in Ireland and an amnesty for all Sinn Fein prisoners. If this war has taught us anything, it is that great things can be done only in a great way.’

Tom Kettle, written in the Field, September 3rd, 1916:

TO MY DAUGHTER BETTY - THE GIFT OF LOVE.
In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother's prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You'll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! they'll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And one decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor, —
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.