One Sunday in October 1915, the British Army were
attempting to hold a recruitment meeting after Mass in the East
Cork village of Dungourney. On hearing of it, Thomas and David
Kent arranged for a group of Volunteers to march through the
meeting. When they reached the end of the village, the Volunteers
tuned to march through again but the meeting hurriedly dispersed.
This was just one incident in a war of attrition between
the Irish Volunteers and the British authorities. Volunteers in
the East Cork area were led by Thomas Kent and Terence McSwiney.
The Kent family from the Castlelyons area had long been active
in agitation against British rule. Thomas's brothers had been
very active in the Land League and a cousin was involved in the
Fenian dynamite campaign in Britain. The Kent brothers formed the
core of the local Volunteer force in the area.
Thomas Kent was imprisoned for two months in February 1916 for
agitation. Immediately on his release, he resumed his activities.
Arms were being procured in preparation for a rising. Eoin
MacNeill's order to the Irish Volunteers not to rise at Easter
caused great confusion amongst their ranks outside Dublin. Roger
Casement's failure to get through also meant there was a chronic
lack of arms. The Kents and their local company decided to secure
what arms they had and to go into hiding.
When they heard that the Rising in Dublin was over the
brothers decided to return home on the night of 1 May. Early the
next morning, the house was surrounded by a party of police who
demanded their surrender. Despite being armed with only one rifle
and three shotguns, the brothers gave no consideration to
surrender. A fierce fire fight ensued; the brothers were
supported by their 84-year-old mother. One brother, David, was
injured, and Head Constable Rowe was shot dead.
The Kents were all captured when they ran out of ammunition.
The RIC lined them up against the farmhouse wall. A medical
officer intervened and prevented their immediate execution. As
they were being led away, Richard Kent attempted to escape across
the fields but was fatally shot in the back. David was taken to
the Fermoy hospital. Thomas was taken to Cork Detention Barracks
where he was strictly isolated from the other prisoners. He was
quickly court-martialled and sentenced to death.
The authorities at the same time began executing the leaders
of the 1916 Rising. On Wednesday, 3 May, Pearse, McDonagh and
Clarke were shot. On Thursday, Plunkett, Daly and Hanrahan were
shot. On Friday, John McBride was executed. Amidst profound shock
and rising anger, the executions went remorselessly on. The
following Monday, Ceannt, Clobert and Mallin were shot. On
Tuesday, 9 May, Thomas Kent was executed in Victoria Barracks
(now Cork City Prison) by a naval detachment from Cobh. He died,
in the words of the officer in charge, ``very bravely, not a
feather out of him''.
Reaction was summed up by George Bernard Shaw in a letter to
the Daily New: ``My own view... is that the men who were shot in
cold blood after capture or surrender were prisoners of war, and
that it was, therefore, entirely incorrect to slaughter them. The
shot Irishmen will now take their places beside Emmet and the
Manchester Martyrs in Ireland and beside the heroes of Poland and
Serbia and Belgium in Europe; and nothing in heaven and earth can