There you have a passage which, in the light of events, seems strangely prophetic. Kettle certainly got his “good lines” at Ginchy. He gave his life greatly for his ideal of a free Ireland in a free Europe.
This suggests that underlying his Hamlet there was a man of action as surely as there was a jester. He was a man with a genius for rising to the occasion—for saying the fine word and doing the fine thing. He compromised often, in accordance with his “realistic” view of things; but he never compromised in his belief in the necessity of large and European ideals in Ireland. He stood by all good causes, not as an extremist, but as a helper somewhat disillusioned. But his disillusionment never made him feeble in the middle of the fight. He was the sworn foe of the belittlers of Ireland. One will get an idea of the passion with which he fought for the traditional Ireland, as well as for the Ireland of coming days, if one turns to his rhymed reply to a living English poet who had urged the Irish to forget their history and gently cease to be a nation. The last lines of this poem—Reason in Rhyme, as he called it—are his testament to England no less than his call to Europeanism is his testament to Ireland:
Bond, from the toil of hate
we may not cease:
Free, we are free to be your friend.
And when you make your banquet, and we come.
Soldier with equal soldier must we sit,
Closing a battle, not forgetting it.
With not a name to hide,
This mate and mother of valiant “rebels” dead
Must come with all her history on her head.
We keep the past for pride:
No deepest peace shall strike our poets dumb:
No rawest squad of all Death’s volunteers,
No rudest men who died
To tear your flag down in the bitter years.
But shall have praise, and three times thrice again,
When at the table men shall drink with men.
That was Kettle’s mood to the last. This was the mood that made him regard with such horror the execution of Pearse and Connolly, and the other leaders of the Dublin insurrection. He regarded these men as having all but destroyed his dream of an Ireland enjoying the freedom of Europe. But he did not believe that any English Government possessed the right to be merciless in Ireland. The murder of Sheehy-Skeffington, who was his brother-in-law, cast another shadow over his imagination from which he never recovered. Only a week before he died he wrote to me from France: “The Skeffington case oppresses me with horror.” When I saw him in the previous July, he talked like a man whose heart Easter Week and its terrible retributions had broken. But there must have been exaltation in those days just before his death, as one gathers from the last, or all but the last, of his letters home: