Thomas Michael “Tom” Kettle, Irish economist, journalist, barrister, writer, war poet, soldier and Home Rule politician, dies on September 9, 1916 during the World War I Battle of the Somme in France.
Kettle is born on February 9, 1880 in Malahide or Artane, Dublin, the seventh of twelve children of Andrew J. Kettle (1833–1916), a leading Irish nationalist politician, progressive farmer, agrarian agitator and founding member of the Irish National Land League, and his wife, Margaret (née McCourt). One of his brothers is the industrial pioneer Laurence Kettle. He is influenced considerably through his father’s political activities.
Like his brothers, Kettle is educated at the Christian Brothers‘ O’Connell School at Richmond Street, Dublin, where he excels. In 1894 he goes to study with the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare, known as a wit and a good debater. He enjoys athletics, cricket and cycling and attains honours in English and French when leaving. He enters University College Dublin in 1897.
As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Kettle is Member of Parliament (MP) for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910 at Westminster. He is a much admired old comrade of James Joyce, who considers 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 joins the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914 enlists for service in the British Army.
Kettle is killed in action with ‘B’ Company of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in an attack on German lines on September 9, 1916, near the village of Ginchy during the Somme Offensive in France. During the advance he is felled when the Dublin Fusiliers are “struck with a tempest of fire,” and having risen from the initial blow, he is struck again and killed outright. His body is buried in a battlefield grave by the Welsh Guards, but the location of the grave is subsequently lost. His name is etched on the monumental arched gateway for the missing of the Somme at Thiepval.
Kettle is one of the leading figures of the generation who, at the turn of the twentieth century, give 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 is regarded as a great loss to Ireland’s political and intellectual life.
As G. K. Chesterton surmises, “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.”