Tom Kettle delivered a lecture entitled The Foundation of Industrial Peace in the Athenaeum in Limerick City on the 10th May 1912. He was invited to speak by the Limerick Industrial Association.
Who was Tom Kettle? He was a journalist, barrister, writer, poet, essayist, economist and Home Rule politician. In 1912 he was serving as a Professor of Economics at University College Dublin. Tom also had a Limerick connection. He was married to Mary Sheehy, who was a daughter of David Sheehy of Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick. Mary Sheehy was a sister of the social reformer Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. Kettle’s friends and contemporaries at UCD included Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Oliver St. John Gogarty and James Joyce. He clashed with Joyce on more than one occasion. Joyce once opined “A holy Hegelian Kettle Has faith which we cannot unsettle.”
Kettle was a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party and was the MP for East Tyrone from 1906–1910. He also edited ‘The Nationalist’ but resigned his editorship in 1905 due to a controversy that was sparked over an allegedly anti-clerical article.
His lecture was well received in Limerick and he was positive about Limerick’s economic future
I’m convinced that the city [Limerick], though having passed through a period of decay, was again about to come into it’s own.
While not a socialist, Kettle was sympathetic with the working class. Referring to the ongoing coal strike in Britain, he remarked,
If any man is willing to work, then society must make it possible for him to eat.
[workers and the employers] must be partners not enemies..there is no use in quarreling about the division of food, until there is food to divide.
He concluded by saying that
there is a great future before Ireland and I hope [Ireland] would [become] a contented and prosperous democracy.
Kettle was an ardent Nationalist who strived for Home Rule as Ireland “claims the right to enter into possession of her own soul.” In stark contrast to Arthur Griffith he was a vocal and influential supporter of the strikers during the 1913 Lockout (“There is a limit to human endurance, and a point beyond which the belt cannot be tightened. A dedicated parliamentarian, he believed that the State’s power could and should be used to alleviate suffering and to create a more just society.
The State is the name by which we call the great human conspiracy against hunger and cold, against loneliness and ignorance.
He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and by 1914 Kettle was in Europe running arms for Redmond. While there he witnessed the outbreak of World War One. He was horrified at the atrocities being committed by the German forces on Belgian civilians and concluded that this was a “battle for civilisation” and that
It is impossible not to be with Belgium in this struggle, it is impossible any longer to be passive. Germany has thrown down a well-considered challenge to all the forces of our civilisation. War is hell, but it is only a hell of suffering, not of dishonour, and through it, over its flaming coals, Justice must walk, were it on bare feet.
He said “it is a confession to make and I make it. I care for liberty more than I care for Ireland.” and duly joined the army.
After Easter 1916, Kettle predicted that the rebels would be seen as heroes and that the Irish in the trenches would be deemed traitors. Mary Sheehy wrote “what really seared his heart was the fearful retribution that fell on the leaders of the rebellion.” Kettle was good friends with his fellow professor at UCD, Thomas McDonagh, who was executed as one of the leaders of the Rising.
But Kettle had a different vision. He believed that by serving together in the war that “two reconciliations” might be possible
Used with the wisdom that is sown in tears and blood, this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain.
Tom died during the Battle of Guinchy, Somme, France on the 9th of September, 1916. Attempts to erect a bust of Kettle were beset by controversy, until it was finally placed in St. Stephen’s Green Dublin.
He is perhaps most remembered for the powerful poem he wrote in the trenches to his daughter..
To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God
In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.