Tom Kettle was a journalist, barrister, writer, poet, soldier, economist and Home Rule politician. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he was Member of Parliament (MP) for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910 at Westminster. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, then on the outbreak of World War I in 1914 enlisted for service in an Irish regiment where in 1916 he met his death on the Western Front.
He was one of the leading figures of the generation who at the turn of the twentieth century gave new intellectual life to Irish party politics, and to the constitutional movement towards All-Ireland Home Rule. The Great War brought both of these and his life to an end. A gifted speaker with an incisive mind and devastating wit, his death was regarded as a great loss to Ireland’s political and intellectual life.
Tom Kettle wrote a poem neglected in the anthologies and ignored by his biographer J. B. Lyons. It was called Reason in Rhyme, composed in answer to an English plea to forget the past. According to Tom Kettle’s friend, Robert Lynd, writing on hearing of Kettle’s death at Ginchy on the Somme in 1916, the poem represents Kettle’s testament to England, and expressed his mood to the last.
‘Reason in Rhyme’
(by Tom Kettle)
Bond from the toil of bate we may not cease:
Free we are 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 that table men shall drink with men.
Kettle is memorialised at the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messine Belgium. A stone tablet features one of his quotes ‘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 sacred scripture of the poor.’
Image | Tom Kettle Memorial | St Stephens Green, Dublin
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