Who is the Freedom Fighter and who is the Terrorist?


Before anyone gets upset, this is not a poke at Thomas Kent or any of those executed in the aftermath of the 1916 Dublin insurrection. Rather, it is a comment on what is happening around the world right now. Thomas Kent is to be given a state funeral after a long stay in prison; in the burial ground of Cork Prison. News coverage and the images on the television are presenting the burial of a hero who never quite made it to Dublin for the Rising. When the Easter 1916 order was countermanded the Kent brothers stayed at home in Cork, but the event happened anyway, and as a consequence the Royal Irish Constabulary began a roundup of those who were suspected of involvement.

When the knock came to the Kent household’s door the brothers inside thought it better to put up a fight, and the ensuing showdown resulted in the death of a senior police officer. Realising that their luck was up, the brothers decided to put out the proverbial white flag and surrender, but in a last minute attempt to escape Richard Kent made a dash for it and was shot. He later died of his injuries. Thomas was then charged, tried, and executed for raising armed rebellion. He thus became one of the martyrs of 1916, and now – after almost one hundred years – he is to be given the full honours denied to him by history, and the fact that his place of burial was uncertain.


Who gets to be a patriot, a hero, and a martyr in times of war? It was not the British Army that came to the Kent’s door, but the RIC – a police force of the Crown which was, admittedly, part of the colonial administration of Ireland. Yet the fact remains that it was the police and not the army, and it was a police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty. It is certainly not my place to judge this history, but what we can all see is that the questions these events raise boil down to narrative; the version of events of a particular perspective in a world of competing perspectives.

Was it still heroism and noble patriotism when the Provisional IRA gunned down members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and An Garda Síochána during the more recent Troubles? What of the Al Qaida martyrs responsible for the September 2001 attacks on the United States, or the Martyrs Brigades in the Lebanon, or those of ISIS fighting in the Middle East right now? If we are to call the Islamic State militants terrorists, then do we call the British and American soldiers heroes? If we are to call any of these heroes and martyrs then surely we must have to concede that sometimes violence and murder are noble pursuits? I prefer not to judge these events as either heroic or villainous. It is perhaps better to see it all as history, and try to keep it there.

Ùr-Fhàsaidh
Jason Michael
Blog Author

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