Address by Minister Flanagan during State Ceremonial event marking the centenary of the death of Thomas Kettle
Friday, 9 September 2016
Excellencies, Deputy Lord Mayor, Chief Justice, Chief of Staff, guests,
I am pleased to represent the Government here today to honour the memory of Lt Thomas Michael Kettle on the 100th Anniversary of this death during the Battle of the Somme, on 9th September 1916 in Ginchy, France.
This afternoon’s event has been organised with considerable participation and input from representatives of the extended family of Thomas Kettle. Your presence here in such numbers is testimony to the honour in which he is held. Together with the members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association - the Regiment in which he served - you have been instrumental in keeping Thomas Kettle’s memory and legacy alive.
The presence of senior representatives from the Defence Forces, the Judiciary and other spheres of Irish life, together with representatives of the Royal British Legion in Ireland and the Somme Association, reflect the regard with which Thomas Kettle continues to be held in the diverse areas of life which he embraced.
I am aware that already today University College Dublin hosted a significant conference where family, academics and representatives of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association gathered to remember the life and legacy of Thomas Kettle. As the Institution where he held the inaugural Professorship in National Economics it was indeed a fitting location in which to pay tribute to this multifaceted and complex patriot.
Today’s events are part of the overall Government programme to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The September campaign of that battle was particularly notable for the involvement of the 16th Irish Division. This was marked by a special ceremony organised by the Somme Association in Guillemont last Saturday. My colleague Minister Heather Humphreys joined the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive and Ireland’s Ambassador to France as well as representatives of national and local authorities in France in recalling this key moment in that terrible battle.
That commemoration followed on the moving ceremony at Thiepval on 1st July, attended by President Michael D. Higgins and Minister Heather Humphreys, and the State-led commemoration at the Irish National War Memorial Park, Islandbridge in conjunction with the Royal British Legion on 9th July.
For too long in Ireland’s history, those who died in the First World War were not officially commemorated, and their families did not have the opportunity for the healing that remembrance provides.
This Decade of Centenaries has enabled countless Irish families to rediscover the part played by their ancestors in military service during the First World War and the price which they paid on the battlefields of France and elsewhere.
In this, the centenary year of the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme, we see the complexity of nationalist Ireland played out in the person of Thomas Kettle. An Irish Volunteer who followed Redmond’s call to play his part in the bigger Anglo-German conflict as a way to secure Home Rule, but who reflected – following the Easter Rising – that he would be remembered as a “bloody British officer”. He was clearly acutely aware that he was one of countless Irish people that despite their patriotism, had found themselves on the wrong side of history when the dust eventually settled.
Today we remember the man – in all his many facets and with appreciation of the full complexity of that time and indeed the continued complexity of identity on these islands.
We remember today a patriot, politician, journalist and soldier.
There are not many of us who could lay claim to having lived the many lives which Kettle achieved in his short 36 years- an international traveller and correspondent, barrister, ardent activist for the Irish Volunteers, not to mention First Professor of National Economics and MP for East Tyrone. It must be said that the seeds of some at least of these talents were sown during his early formative years at O'Connell Schools in North Richmond Street and the developmental period spent at Clongowes Wood College, where by all accounts he proved to be a well-rounded student.
It is so easy to forget the individual soldier in the millions of stories which have been told and remain to be told in respect of that horrendous four year period, one hundred years ago.
Today offers us the chance to stop and remember at least one such man.
We also remember the family man.
What must have been going through Kettle's mind in those terrifying days of early September 1916 as he sat with his men in their trench awaiting battle? To what were his thoughts directed? We can guess that he was thinking about the battle ahead and the men he was about to lead. And we know that his family weighed on his mind and it was his daughter to whom he poured out his thoughts, in his poignant Poem "To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God" - which will be recited shortly.
Thomas Kettle's rich legacy is one which cannot be summed up easily or tritely – nor does it deserve to be - much has been written and discussed – but a hundred years after his death on 9th September 1916 in Ginchy we can say that the death of this proud nationalist was not only a loss for his family and friends but a loss to Ireland.