Homily of Bishop William Crean at Mass for the Reinterment of Thomas Kent

18 Sep 2015

Homily of Bishop William Crean at the Mass for the State Funeral and reinterment of Thomas Kent RIP

  • Church of Saint Nicholas, Castlelyons, Co Cork, Diocese of Cloyne

My friends,

Today’s gathering in faith and prayer in memory of Thomas Kent is a most unusual funeral.  It writes the final chapter in a long ordeal for the Kent Family as today serves as a moment of closure as they lay Thomas in his final resting place amongst his own people and alongside his family.

This strange and unusual set of circumstances were forged by the tragic events of ninety nine years ago when Thomas chose to give his life in the cause of freedom.  He and others thereby sowed the seeds of the flowering of a new political dispensation which would become the Republic of Ireland, of which we are all beneficiaries.

No doubt his dream for a new Ireland and the vigour with which he sought to realise that dream drew deeply from the well of inspiration of the generations who had gone before him.  The Book of Ecclesiasticus invites us as follows:

                        “Let us praise illustrious men (and women)

our ancestors in their successive generations”

And later on….

“In their descendants they find a rich inheritance.

Their offspring will last forever,

their glory will not fade.

Their bodies have been buried in peace,

and their name lives on for all generations.

The people will proclaim their wisdom

the assembly will celebrate their praises”

My friends, when we recall the patriot/martyrs of the Easter Rising and thereafter a certain tentative mood prevails in our time, uncertain of the worth of violent resistance.  “I see his blood upon the rose” (Joseph Mary Plunkett) … from which “a terrible beauty is born” (W.B. Yeats).

Violence and war are cruel instruments by which to accomplish any human endeavour.  Violence and war as we witness today wreak havoc and tragedy in the lives of so many, leaving deep scars of sadness and loss which call out for retribution and revenge.

The Lord Jesus in choosing His apostles chose one whom history remembers as Simon, the Zealot.  Those who seek to right injustice and oppression are people of zeal in the best sense of the word.

The zeal of Thomas Kent was evident in every facet of his life.  Bhí fíorghrá aige don Ghaeilge.  Bhí sé an-bhródúil freisin as an oidhreacht cheoil atá againn.  Nuair a bhí uair a bháis ag druidim leis, bhí an paidrín ina láimh aige agus é ag urnaí ó chroí chuig ár dTiarna Íosa Críost trí idirghuí na Maighdine Beannaithe.

Into the hands of the Lord he consciously commended his spirit.

The person of zeal is profound in conviction and sure in the cause of right.  Thomas Kent was one such man amongst others, women and men who shared his dream and sought to make it a reality.  He and his compatriots dreamed the dream of freedom.  They yearned to feel its bracing freshness in which identity, culture and commerce could prosper and flourish.

It is a source of immense gratitude to God that we in our time can witness the dawn of peace and engage in the difficult task of reconciliation.  Saint Paul writing to the Corinthians lays the spiritual foundation for that work of reconciliation.  As we recognise the terrible beauty that is born … Saint Paul would say to us:

“for anyone who is in Christ

There is a new creation:

the old order is gone

and a new being is there to see ….”

“I mean, God was in Christ

Reconciling the world to himself

Not holding anyone’s faults against them

But entrusting to us the message of reconciliation”

(2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Might I conclude with some verses from the end of the long prose poem entitled “Requiem and Invocation” by Denise Levertov.  Towards the end of the poem Levertov writes:

What do they ask,

the martyrs,

of those who hear them,

who know

the story, the cry,

who know what brought

our land to this grief?

What do their deaths demand?

Their deaths

enjoin upon us, the living,

not to give up the vision

of lives freed from the lead weight

of centuries, clear of the stain

of indigo, stench

of fermenting sugar,

whistle of whiplash,

cramps of hunger,

ache of lost dignity, loss

of the ancient rhythms –

vision of simple peace

sharing our minds, our labour, our soup,

teaching hope to our children,

putting behind us

the terror of centuries.

Those who were martyred

tell us that horror

won’t cease on the earth

till the hungry are fed,

that … all of us are

our brother’s keepers,

members of one another,

responsible, culpable, and –

able to change.

This is the knowledge

that grows in power

out of the seeds of their martyrdom.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis


  • Bishop William Crean is Bishop of Cloyne.
  • RTÉ will broadcast live coverage on television, online and mobile of the State Funeral of executed 1916 rebel Thomas Kent.  Thomas Kent was one of the sixteen men executed in 1916 following the Easter Rising, and one of only two executed outside Dublin (the other was Roger Casement, who was hanged in London). Thomas Kent’s remains were exhumed in Cork Prison earlier this year and his relatives accepted the offer of a State Funeral.  David McCullagh will present special television coverage of the State Funeral, starting at 1.25pm today on RTÉ One and RTÉ News Now, with John Bowman and Mary Kennedy providing commentary of the Requiem Mass and reburial in the Kent family grave at St Nicholas’ Church in Castlelyons near Fermoy, County Cork.  Full military honours will be rendered at the funeral ceremonies.  The Requiem Mass will be attended by the President, Michael D Higgins, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, the Tánaiste Joan Burton TD, the Lord Mayor of Cork, the Cork County Mayor, and other dignitaries.
  • Background to Thomas Kent: Thomas Kent was born in 1865, the fourth in a family of nine children. In 1916, he was the eldest of four sons living with their mother, then in her eighties, in the family home at Bawnard House, Castlelyons, Co Cork.  Thomas had a great love of Irish culture, the Irish language and Gaelic games. He was also a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.  He joined the Irish Volunteers shortly after their foundation in November 1913.  By April 1916 he had risen to the rank of Commandant and was a leading member of the Galtee Battalion.  Conflicting orders from Dublin meant that the Kents did not take part in the Easter Rising.  However, they were among those selected for arrest in its immediate aftermath. Thomas and his brothers Richard, David and William resisted arrest after the RIC surrounded their home on 2 May 1916. Their mother was also in the house. A gun battle ensued, in which Head Constable William Rowe was killed and David Kent was injured. Richard Kent was wounded trying to escape and died a few days later.  Thomas and William were tried by court martial. William was acquitted but Thomas was found guilty and sentenced to death.   He was executed by firing squad on 9 May 1916 in the Military Detention Barracks, Cork and buried in an unmarked grave in its grounds.  In June 2015, his remains were exhumed and DNA testing confirmed their identity.  Apart from Roger Casement, Thomas Kent was the only one of the 16 men executed after the Easter Rising to be executed outside Dublin.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678