ST STEPHEN’S GREEN IN DUBLIN
Thomas Michael Kettle (9 February 1880 – 9 September 1916) was an Irish economist, journalist, barrister, writer, war poet, soldier and Home Rule politician. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he was Member of Parliament (MP) for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910 at Westminster. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, then on the outbreak of World War I in 1914 enlisted for service in the British Army, with which he was killed in action on the Western Front in the Autumn of 1916. He was a much admired old comrade of James Joyce, who considered him to be his best friend in Ireland, as well as the likes of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Oliver St. John Gogarty and Robert Wilson Lynd.
He was one of the leading figures of the generation who 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. 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.
As G. K. Chesterton surmised, “Thomas Michael Kettle was perhaps the greatest example of that greatness of spirit which was so ill rewarded on both sides of the channel […] He was a wit, a scholar, an orator, a man ambitious in all the arts of peace; and he fell fighting the barbarians because he was too good a European to use the barbarians against England, as England a hundred years before has used the barbarians against Ireland”.
Kettle was killed in action with ‘B’ Company of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in an attack on German lines on 9 September 1916, near the village of Ginchy during the Battle of the Somme. During the advance Kettle was felled when the Dublin Fusiliers were ‘struck with a tempest of fire’, and having risen from the initial blow, he was struck again and killed outright. His body was buried in a battlefield grave by the Welsh Guards, but the grave was subsequently lost trace of. His name is etched on the monumental arched gateway for the missing of the Somme at Thiepval. He was 36-years old.
The poet George William Russell wrote about Kettle, comparing his sacrifice with those who led the 1916 Easter Rising:
You proved by death as true as they,
In mightier conflicts played your part,
Equal your sacrifice may weigh
Dear Kettle of the generous heart.