Andrew & Tom Kettle


The following, by Stephen Collins, appeared in an "Irish Times" special supplement marking the 90th anniversary of the commencement of the Battle of the Somme.

Tom Kettle
Nationalist who fell at the Front

Tom Kettle was probably the most eminent figure in Irish life to die at the Somme. A politician, a poet, a teacher, the poem to his daughter written a few days before he died in September, 1916, captured idealism and the futility of his sacrifice and that of his comrades in the 16th (Irish) Division.

Kettle was born in 1880, the seventh of 12 children of Andrew Kettle, a farmer and political activist who was one of the founders of the Land League and a strong supporter of Parnell. The family was comfortably off and Tom went first to O'Connell Schools and then to Clongowes.

A bright student he went on to University College Dublin where he established himself as one of the leading figures of his generation. A brilliant scholar and a prominent student politician, he was elected auditor of the Literary and Historical Society for 1898/99 and became good friends with other bright young men such as James Joyce and Oliver St. John Gogarty.

His political involvement began with the campaign against the Boer War and his potential was spotted by the leader of the Irish Party, John Redmond. Although his views on issues like women's rights and education were regarded as very liberal he was chosen as the party candidate in 1906 in East Tyrone and was elected to the House of Commons at the age of 26.

A contrast to the aging conservative males who dominated the party, Kettle became a star and was in great demand as a speaker and writer. An engaging and gregarious personality, he developed a fondness for drink that would become a problem as years went by. In 1909 he married Mary Sheehy, a fellow UCD graduate and suffragette, whose father was a well known M P and whose sister Hanna married Frank Skeffington.

Appointed a professor at UCD in 1909 he was a hugely popular teacher. Unlike other middle class nationalists he had sympathy with the strikers of 1913 and wrote extensively about the appalling conditions of the Dublin poor. He joined the Volunteers in 1913 and was in Belgium to buy guns when war broke out in 1914. Kettle was horrified by the German atrocities he witnessed and wrote about them for the Daily News.

His passionate support for Belgium's cause prompted him to back Redmond's support for the British war effort. He joined the army remarking, during one controversy:

"It is a confession to make and I make it. I care for liberty more than I care for Ireland." He also thought that the involvement of National and Ulster Volunteers in the war would prevent partition in the aftermath.

Because of his drinking Kettle was not dispatched to France until July, 1916. The Rising caused him grief, particularly as his brother in law Frank Sheehy-Skeffington, was murdered by soldiers. He gave evidence in favour of Eoin MacNeill at his court martial. While at the front he wrote. "In the name, and by the seal of the blood given in the last two years, I ask for colonial Home Rule for Ireland . . . and I ask for the immediate withdrawal of martial law in Ireland and an amnesty for all Sinn Fein prisoners."

Conditions in the trenches quickly ruined Kettle's health but he refused to leave the Dublin Fusiliers for a safe job behind the lines. "I have had two chances of leaving them, one on sick leave and the other to take a staff job. I have chosen to stay with my comrades. I am calm and happy and desperately anxious to live. " he wrote about the same time as he composed the poem (see below) to his baby daughter. Kettle was killed on September 9th. 1916, while taking part in the Irish Brigade's capture of Ginchy. He is buried there. A bust in his honour was erected in St Stephen 's Green in 1937.


Andrew Kettle: A Land Leaguer, a strong supporter of Parnell and a Malahide land holder.

Andrew Kettle was a founder of the Land League which fought to obtain for farmers, the three Fs - Fixity of Tenure, Fair Rent and Free Sale. He worked very closely with Isaac Butt and Charles Parnell. In 1879, he presided at the meeting in Dublin, which established the Land League on a formal basis. He was appointed as its first treasurer. He died on the 22nd of September 1916 shortly after hearing of the war death at Ginchy in France of his son Tom, academic, barrister and WWI poet.
Andrew was a substantial farmer around Artane but he lived in Millview House for a time from 1869 onwards where he was the tenant on ten acres of farmland which became the focus of a major land dispute when, in 1881, the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881 set up Land Courts.

Kettle was one of the first to apply for the fixing of a fair rent. He argued that his ten acres was an agricultural holding. The landlord, Lord Talbot, maintained that Millview was a gentleman’s residence and, as such, did not come within the scope of the Land Act. Talbot was so determined to win this pilot case that he engaged two independent valuers, one to assess the house and one to assess the land.

The land valuer, the first to give evidence, was asked what he thought of the house as he passed from one five acres to the front to the other five behind the house. He commented that he regarded it as a dilapidated old structure. This answer settled the question and the house valuer was not called.
Kettle won his case, as an agricultural status was established and a fair rent fixed.
The same year Talbot got a decree for £40 against Kettle for unpaid rent. When Kettle did not pay, a sheriff’s sale was advertised for Kettle’s well stocked haggard at Kilmore Cottage, Artane. Neither principal attended but there were at least 100 policemen, four officers and some mounted men present. A black horse was brought forth and the large crowd called for a ring to be formed around the horse so the bidders could be clearly identified. Talbot’s agent bid £5 but it was quickly knocked down to Kettle’s brother for £20. Another horse was produced with the same result and the sale then concluded peacefully with honour saved on all sides.
Andrew Kettle is well remembered for his feats of strength. On passing Kinsealy Forge one day he found men unable to move the anvil. He lifted it slowly and surely to shoulder-high with ease. While working on ricks of straw on his farm, he usually transferred the ladder around the rick while the workman was still on the upper rungs.

The following, by Frank Callanan, appeared in "The Irish Times" of 4th September, 2006

An Irish nationalist and our first European

Ninety years after his death, Tom Kettle's life continues to fascinate, writes Frank Callanan

It is a remarkable tribute to TM Kettle that as a public figure who, in terms of the politics of early 20th century Ireland, found himself on the "wrong side of history", he has continued to exert a powerful fascination.

Broken politically and emotionally by the Easter Rising, Kettle, a lieutenant in the Dublin Fusiliers, was killed five months later, on September 8th, 1916, on the Somme in the assault on the village of Ginchy.

Kettle was born in Artane, Dublin on February 9th, 1880, the third son of Andrew Kettle, a progressive north Co Dublin farmer and a collaborator of Parnell. Andrew Kettle was the Parnellite candidate in the Carlow by-election of July 1891, the third of the Parnell split and the last of Parnell's life.

Tom Kettle went to the O'Connell School, North Richmond Street, and then to Clongowes. At University College Dublin, from 1897, he was a highly charismatic student, who lived in what Robert Lynd called "a blaze of adoration". He was the auditor of the Literary and Historical Society 1989-99, and editor of the unusually sophisticated college journal St Stephen's 1903-4.

At university Kettle encountered Francis Skeffington and Francis Cruise O'Brien. All three would marry daughters of the Irish Party MP David Sheehy, and were to be prominent in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League, the organisation of the Irish Party. The "Yibs", if they carried little or no weight in the coun­sels of the Irish Party, attracted a good deal of public attention for their advocacy of a more aggressive and sharply focused pursuit of home rule.

Among Kettle's contemporaries at university was James Augustine Joyce. While a decorous mutual respect was observed, their political, aesthetic and philosophical convictions collided sharply. With equal conviction Kettle sought to impose, Joyce to shatter, intellectual consensus.

Joyce famously declined to sign the somewhat unctuous letter of student protest to the Freeman's Journal against Yeats's Countess Cathleen that was promoted and probably written by Kettle. Joyce preferred the company of the more cynical Oliver St John Gogarty and lithely teased: "A holy Hegelian Kettle Has faith which we cannot unsettle."

Richard Ellmann, Joyce's biogra­pher discerned something of Kettle, among others, in the character of Robert Hand, who counters the Joyce figure Richard Rowan in Joyce's play Exiles.

Kettle was virtually unique in Irish public life in seeking from 1905 to explore the possibility of a via media between the Irish Party and Arthur Griffith's then minuscule Sinn Fein. Kettle was unswervingly committed to home rule, and was offering little more than a respectful imaginative accommodation with Sinn Fein. Griffith, as ever a superb polemicist, responded with blasts of withering excoriation. It is unlikely that the Irish Party regarded Kettle's campaign to bring at least the rhetoric of home rule into a closer alignment with the thinking of his generation with any greater enthusiasm than did Griffith.

Called to the bar in 1906, Kettle, possibly by reason of his genial benignity, did not pursue his short career as a barrister with especial zeal. He was elected by a tiny margin as MP for East Tyrone. A speaking tour of the United States exposed him to Irish American extremism, and his own position hardened in response.

While Kettle's career as a parliamentarian appeared promising, he was too sensitive for the psychological rigours of political life. He held his seat in the f irst 1910 election, but did not contest the second. The most abiding legacy of his parliamentary career may be his lethal epigram:

"When in office the Liberals forget their principles, and the Conservatives remember their friends".

Kettle was appointed professor of, somewhat improbably, National Economics at UCD, and through the elegance of his published writing, and his interventions in public controversy (notably in relation to the 1913 lock out) remained a prominent public figure in Ireland.

Kettle was in Belgium for the Irish Volunteers when the f irst World War broke out. Horrified by the ferocity of the German onslaught, he despatched impassioned and very moving reports for the liberal Daily News. He enlisted on his way home, presenting his wife with a fait accompli. A lieutenant in the Dublin Fusiliers, Kettle in uniform tirelessly advocated recruitment.

What gave still greater offence to Sinn Fein and Irish republicans was his unremitting insistence that support for the allied war effort against German militarism was wholly consistent with, and indeed was dictated by, his Irish nationalism.

For Kettle, the 1916 Rising was a catastrophe, a seismic event that cracked apart the fault line of his own complex nationalism. In addition to the executions - Kettle had been friendly with Thomas McDonagh -his brother-in-law Francis Sheehy Skeffington - a non combatant - had been summarily shot in Portobello Barracks. Shattered, and with some presentiment of his own death . Kettle left Dublin on July 14th for the atrocious conditions of the trenches of the Somme. Ill but refusing to leave "my Dublin Fusiliers" at the front, he wrote to his wife on September 3rd, "it is no longer indiscreet to say we are to take part in one of the biggest attacks of the war. Many will not come back".

Like Parnell, whose memory he revered, Kettle has left a myth. It endures through the grace of his prose, and the integrity and amplitude of his nationalism, manifested above all in the conviction that suffused his writing and public life that Irish nationalism had to become European. In that central respect, James Joyce and Tom Kettle were at one.

Tom Kettle was called to the bar in 1906. He was a very popular lecturer at University College, Dublin.