The hearts of Clongownians worldwide will have beaten a little faster and their pulses quickened last Tuesday as President Michael D Higgins mentioned one of our alumni, Tom Kettle (OC 1897), when he became the first Irish head of state to address members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster. The president’s tribute to Kettle was in the context of an homage to Irish parliamentarians as well as to Irish soldiers who had died in the First World War. Clongowes can count 95 of its past pupils in the latter category.
Kettle wrote that “this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain”. The President went on to note that Tom Kettle was “an Irish patriot, a British soldier and a true European [and] that it has been in that European context of mutuality and interdependence that we took the most significant steps towards each other.”
Thomas Michael “Tom” Kettle (1880 – 1916) was an Irish journalist, barrister, writer, poet, soldier, economist and Home Rule politician. During his three years at Clongowes (1894-7) Tom was known as a wit and a good debater, who also enjoyed athletics, cricket and cycling and attained honours in English and French when leaving. In University College Dublin he was a leading student politician, auditor of the Literary and Historical Society and a brilliant scholar in the company of other Old Clongownians Oliver St John Gogarty and James Joyce.
As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he was MP for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910. 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.
Tom Kettle was one of the leading figures of the generation, which – 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 .
When next you are in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin you might pause at his statue (above) for a moment and for a moment’s thought of this remarkable man. You can also visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Kettle