Biographical Note [1958]

Laurence J. Kettle

Andrew J. Kettle married Margaret McCourt, daughter of Laurence McCourt, of Newtown, St. Margaret’s, Co. Dublin. Laurence McCourt was an agricultural produce factor. He was very fond of hunting and was a member of the Ward Union Hunt. Local tradition still points out jumps of his, beside which Becher’s Brook would appear insignificant. When he died the St. Margaret’s farm was bought by my father and was farmed for some years by my eldest brother.

Andrew Kettle lived for some time in Drynam House, which was the original home of that well-known old Catholic family – the Russell-Cruises. He farmed the Russell-Cruise demesne lands during the years when Robert Russell-Cruise was living in France. Later he moved to Kilmore, Artane, where he had acquired three holdings. After some years he moved to Millview, Malahide. He returned to Kilmore for some time, and eventually moved to St. Margeret’s to the old McCourt home, where he lived until his death.

Millview, Malahide, was the home of the Andrew Kettle family for many years, and most the family were born there, so that they regarded Malahide as their home town. Millview was a long, rambling, two-storey house, in which the one-storey kitchen and the domestic out-offices formed a separate building, joined to the house by a passage-way which divided the upper from the lower stable yards. The house is now divided to form two residences.



The Mill which justified the name of the house was the old windmill on the top of Feltrim Hill, about two miles away. The house stood on a holding of some ten acres, divided into two fields, one field in front of the house and the other behind it. The holding was rented from Lord Talbot de Malahide, and when the 1881 Land Act, which set up the Land Courts, came into effect one of the first applications for the fixing of a fair rent concerned Millview. As Andrew Kettle was so well known as a leader of the land agitation, and as the holding was regarded as a borderline case, Lord Talbot and the landlords generally were determined to make as big a fight as possible. The landlord’s case was that Millview was not an agricultural holding but a gentleman’s residence, with just enough land for such a residence, and that it did not come within the scope of the Act. The tenant’s case was that the place was an agricultural holding, and that the house, being rather large for the size of the farm, arose from the fact that the Kettle family was a large one, and that it was the family rather than the land which lived in the house.

The landlord side in their anxiety to win the case were not satisfied to engage one valuer for the holding, but engaged two independent valuers – one for the land, and one for the “gentlemen’s residence.” At the hearing of the case the land valuer was the first to give evidence. Counsel exchanged a few friendly words with him, and then asked: “In passing from one field to the other did you go near the house?” “Oh, yes, I passed just beside it.” “Did you have a good look at it?” “I did.” “And what did you think of it?” “I thought it was a dilapidated old structure.”

The house valuer was never called, as that answer settled the case; the agricultural status of the holding was established, and a fair rent was fixed.



Although Millview was used for agricultural purposes it was a very minor item of my father’s farming activities. Whilst farming the holdings in Artane he lived most of the time in Millview, although there was a residence on the Artane property. This was long before the motor car era, and the journey from Millview to Artane was by pony trap. My father’s business and his political interests brought him frequently to Dublin. The normal round on these occasions was to walk a mile to Malahide railway station and then by rail to Dublin. When he had completed his business there he travelled by tram to the Malahide Road, walked the two miles to the Artane farm, and when he had finished his farming work he completed his round by pony trap to Millview.

Andrew Kettle was a man of unusual mental and physical energy and alertness. Frequently, after a long day of hard work he would say: “I have writing to do, but I will take twenty minutes sleep first.” He would lie down on an old horsehair sofa in the living room, and inside two minutes he would be asleep. He would wake up in twenty minutes, perfectly fresh and alert, and would proceed to write, perhaps a pungent letter to the Freeman’s Journal on some political or agricultural phase. He had Napoleon’s gift of being able to sleep and wake as he desired.



Stories were told of his physical feats in his younger days. Kinsealy forge was a local meeting place, and one evening he found the locals trying who could lift the anvil. Those who could lift it at all only raised it a foot or so from the ground. He was invited to try what he could do, and having taken a good look behind him he seized the anvil and threw it clean over his head and out through the doorway. Even when he was no longer young, I have seen him do some remarkable feats in the most casual way. In ricking straw or corn it was a usual thing, as the rick got higher, to place men at intervals on a ladder set against the rick and to hand up the forkful of straw or hay from one man to the next. In a busy threshing time, when it became necessary to move the ladder to a new position, I have seen him seize the ladder, and with the warning: “Hold your holt,” carry the ladder, complete with man, to the new position.



He enjoyed good health generally until he was in the seventies, although Kilmainham affected him more than was the case with his less robust colleagues who were not open-air men in ordinary life. He did, however, have a serious attack of inflammation in one of his eyes in early middle age. He consulted Dr. Wilson, who had succeeded Sir William Wilde in his Merrion Square practice as an oculist. Dr. Wilson said he had never seen such a virulent attack, and that he was afraid he could not save the sight of the eye. He prescribed a course of treatment, but said that it was experimental, and that much would depend on the co-operation of the patient who had to record and report his condition and observations day by day. On the basis of these reports the doctor varied the treatment and eventually made a complete cure.

Dr. Wilson furnished no account, and when my father asked him how much he owed him, Wilson said: “You owe me nothing, but I owe you a great deal. I have gained a great reputation amongst doctors from my treatment and cure of your eye. This success would have been impossible if it had not been for your remarkable keenness of observation and your accurate reports.”

The only other doctoring I remember until his later years was the removal of an anthrax from his neck, after which he always wore a silk scarf in place of a collar.



For the last seven years of his life he was disabled by rheumatism and was able to get about very little. However, his mind remained as clear as ever right up to the time of his death, and he lost nothing of his keenness of observation, his interest in public affairs, and his understanding and memory of events.

The Memoirs were written during his later days and are evidence of his mental clearness and his remarkable memory. My brother Charlie ran the farms in Kilmore and Newtown, but his father took a day-to-day interest in all the farming operations, and his advice and suggestions were always of great value.

The tedium of his invalid life was relieved by visits from his faithful old friend, Alderman Flanagan, who drove out to see him nearly every Sunday, with his daughter, now the wife of W. T. Cosgrave. Another visitor in those days was Father Aloysius Corbett of Clarendon Street.



My father took a well-informed interest in sport generally, but without attaching any great importance to it. He had a good knowledge of what was going on in horse racing, cycling, and athletics, and he occasionally went to important athletic meetings at Ballsbridge. He had a great admiration for our high jump champion of the nineties, J. M. Ryan, the Tipperary man. This was not so much on account of the height he could jump, which was only about 6 ft. 1 in., but by reason of the wonderful grace and ease of his performance. There was none of the gymnasium contortions which are such a feature of present-day high jumping. “He goes up like a bird,” was my father’s comment. All this was before the coming of the motor car, and when every village in Ireland had its annual cycling and athletic sports.

My father never rode a bicycle, but my elder brother Andy was no mean performer on the road and on the grass track. He had the unusual cycling distinction of holding at the same time the end-to-end record on the “push” bicycle and on the motor bicycle.



My father was one of the best informed and most progressive farmers in Ireland. He was always one of the first to try out new agricultural machinery and had one of the earliest self-binders in this country. I remember one piece of machinery which took our juvenile fancy, not on account of its performance but by reason of its impressive name. It was a German machine and the name painted on it was “Kunstdungerstreumaschine” all in one word.

Another machine which I remember was a large windmill which we installed for the purpose of pumping a quarry. Although it was impressive on account of its size, it did not produce much in the form of horse-power and was later replaced by a comparatively insignificant looking oil engine.



I remember that all these machines were got through the medium of Thomas McKenzie and Sons, of what was then Great Brunswick Street. I believe Mr. Cadle, who installed the windmill, is still alive, but Mr. Hall, who was the manager in McKenzie’s, died a few years ago. Mr. Hall was always anxious to get the opinion of my father on everything concerning farming, as he regarded him as one of the best authorities in Ireland.

Another famous old firm, also of Scottish origin, with whom we did a good deal of seed corn and potato business, was Drummond’s of Dawson Street. Both these firms are still flourishing.



We were tillage farmers and grew a good deal of barley, amongst other crops. This was sold to the brewers and distillers, usually to Guinness’s, Jameson’s, and Power’s. It was generally sold on samples exhibited in the Corn Exchange, and delivery did not take place for some time. In these fifty shilling days it may be of interest to note that at the time in question fifteen shillings as a very high price for barley, even for first quality, saved in good condition.



Although we were tillage farmers, we always had a few cattle, which were raised from the calf stage to the fat bullock without any stall feeding. There was one field on the Bonnybrook farm which was a marvellous place for finishing off the cattle. This field, known as “The Moat,” had never been broken up in our time. There was a tradition that to plough it would bring bad luck, and that accidents to men and horses had always followed such attempts. The field was said to have formed part of the Clontarf battlefield, and ancient weapons had been dug up there.



My father also did a little in the horse-breeding business, not race horses or hunters, but farm and road horses. He specialised in Clydesdales, which were great, heavy horses, bought mainly by Guinness’s. We were regular exhibitors at the R.D.S. Spring Show, long before the horse was supplanted by the internal combustion engine. I have on the sideboard a silver cup for the best horse and farm cart in the show, won in the two successive years – 1888 and 1889.




My father often expressed amusement at the widely held belief that farming needed less brains than other occupations, and that if you had a son who was none too bright you should make him a farmer. He stated that to be a reasonably successful farmer one had to have not only a good brain, but also qualities and abilities which were not so necessary in other walks of life. He had to have an intimate knowledge of the workings of God’s creation, and the way in which nature performed its miracles. He needed to be particularly observant and foreseeing, and quick to grasp opportunities of weather, men, and markets.



My brother Charles managed the family farms for the years during which his father was disabled by rheumatism. Charlie was himself a remarkably able, well informed, and enterprising tillage farmer, and he had occasional differences and arguments with his father concerning farming matters and methods. Charlie told me that his later experience showed that “The Governor was always right.”



My father says in his Memoirs that the chief item of his mother’s “fortune” was a large collection of books, bound in calf, and ranging from Homer and Horace to Smollett and Sterne, with a good sprinkling of more modern authors down to Moore, Burns, and Scott. He seems to have read these in his youth, and it was certainly a remarkable literary course. In later life he added a good deal to this library. I seldom heard him quote from any author except Burns, whose works he knew by heart.

He was on friendly terms with our County Dublin poetess – Katherine Tynan – and also with our Northern novelist and poetess, Mrs. M. T. Pender. As boys we always looked forward to the next instalment of Mrs. Pender’s serials in the Shamrock, a weekly national periodical which also published [William Francis] Lynam’s Mick McQuaid [stories]. This journal was owned by Pigott and was afterwards bought by Parnell.

Frank Hugh O’Donnell was a regular correspondent of my father’s, and his satirical verses were a great joy to Tom and to me.

My father never kept copies of his correspondence. This would have been of considerable interest today, considering the prominent public men with whom had had close touch. He did leave a few Parnell letters, one of which, written in 1886, is reproduced in these Memoirs. There is also a letter from Mrs. Pender, written in 1881, which may be of interest.



Dear Mr. K.

I have pulled this page out of an old scrapbook. It is a ballad, written without thought on the impulse of the moment, to an old Scots Jacobite air. You will recognise it, I think, but I forget the name of it.

M. T. P.

The ballad was published in the Boston Pilot, February 5th, 1881, and the last verse runs thus:

Far o’er the ocean’s foam,
Exiles from hearth and home,
League for the old land, and shoulder to shoulder,
Come in their thousands deep,
Come like the West wind’s sweep,
True hearts and strong arms to shield and uphold her.
Follow thee, Parnell, yes, ages thy name shall bless,
Long hath old Erin’s heart trusted thee fairly,
Under thy banner high, swear we to win or die,
Lead us to victory, bonnie Prince Charlie.



Although my father was so actively engaged in politics his children were not as interested in the subject as one might expect. The principal reason for this was that they were too young to be taken into his confidence. Anyhow, in those days children or women were not encouraged to take an interest in such matters. The occasional visits of political personages to dine in our house, and the turn-out of the local band to play in front of our hall door, were the principal events which linked us youngsters with the political issues.

The Memoirs cover most of the political questions of my father’s time and these need not be reviewed here. One important difficulty of the Land War has, however, not been emphasised. This was the fact that the Irish leaders had not only to combat the enemy but had also to convert their own friends and followers. It was not always easy to convince even the well-educated farmer that the rents which prevailed were unjust, because they were based on the tenant’s work and improvements, rather than on anything which the landlord had contributed.

When my father was organising test cases for the Land Courts he interviewed one well-known farmer in order to get him to bring a highly-rented farm of his into the Courts. At the time, agricultural prices were high, and my father’s friend said he was making good money on the farm, and that he could not in conscience swear that the land was not worth £8 an acre. My father asked him: “What was the land worth when your family first got it?” Is it something which the landlord has done which has made the land worth £8 an acre, or is it the sweat and labour of your father and your grandfather?” The question had only one plain and honest answer; and the farmer who could not swear that the land was not worth £8 an acre went into Court and swore that the landlord’s property in the farm was not worth half that money. This was a typical case.



Some Churchmen were rather chary of expressing approval of the tenants’ Land War claims as these claims were regarded as an encroachment on the rights of private property. However, the Irish bishops and priests, who understood the rights and wrongs of the case, were as a rule on the Irish side. The lack of approval of the tenants’ claims came from people who had been misinformed regarding the real facts. The Parnell Tribute in 1883 showed this clearly, and also showed that the Irish people understood the position. The Vatican expressed disapproval of the Parnell Tribute on May 11th, 1883. The amount contributed at that date was £7,700. On June 19th the amount was £15,000, and on December 11th it was £37,000.



In connection with the Parnell Tribute I found amongst my father’s papers a list of subscribers who had handed their contributions to him personally. This list is of interest, as it is a fairly representative sample of the staunch old County Dublin people of those days.

Patrick O’Neill
Joseph O’Neill
William O’Neill
Fergus O’Neill
Mark Quinn
John Quinn
Thomas Grehan
James Grehan
W. H. Cobbe
Patrick Stanley
Peter Reilly
Peter Whelan
Robert Smyth
W. Masterson
John Fitzsimons
James O’Reilly
John Gill
Nicholas Long
John Martin
Michael Flanagan
John Daly
Thomas Carr
James Stewart
James O’Neill
Gerald Rice
James Kennedy
John O’Neill
James Butterley
C. Dunne
E. Malone
John Kelly (Pill Lane)
Michael Flood
C. Byrne
Charles Byrne
T. Neary
John Barr
Ambrose Farrell
E. McCormack
R. Brown
Joseph Delany
L. McCourt
John Butterly
W. Dowling
Joseph Lawless



Anything my father did he did thoroughly, and he had little patience with feeble or inefficient handling of any work. As he himself said, he had a “holy horror of amateurs,” and of what he called “weak-wristed people.” On such performers he could be devastating in his comments – “Did Pat Smith do that job right (some farm work)?” “He did.” “Then there must have been only one way of doing it.” He was a keen judge of men, and seldom made a mistake. “My men always win,” was a favourite remark of his; and they generally did.

The men he admired most were Napoleon and Parnell, and they certainly showed no lack of efficiency. My young brother Charlie, who was born about the time of the Parnell crisis, was christened “Charles Stewart” after Parnell, and a sister of mine was named Josephine, after Napoleon’s wife, Josephine Beauharnais.



During the Parnell controversy people who knew him well expressed surprise at the fact that so religious a man as my father should identify himself so completely with Parnell in his last fight. He, however, was quite satisfied that the agitation against Parnell had little to do with religion, but was of a purely political and personal character, and he recognised the supreme importance of Parnell to the Irish cause.

In ordinary life my father lived his religion, and there was no doubt about the reality to him of the Ten Commandments. He often impressed on me the duty of leaving the world a little better than I found it, even if it were in apparently minor matters. Another of his injunctions was: “If you cannot say anything good about a man say nothing at all about him.” Father Ryan, the parish priest of Finglas, who visited him frequently when he was an invalid, said he had never met anyone who had such a strong faith and confidence in the Almighty.



My father often stated that September was a fateful month for the Kettle family. His father died on September 22nd, his mother on September 24th, and his brother on September 25th. He himself died on September 22nd, 1916. Tom was killed in France on September 9th, 1916. His father was very fond and proud of Tom, even from his early school days, and, when I told him Tom was listed as missing, after the battle of Ginchy, he said: “If Tom is dead, I don’t wish to live any longer.”



During the Famine, and after reading one of the terrible Famine bulletins, my father’s mother made him promise, solemnly and religiously, that if it were God’s will to give him means or influence during his life, he would use them to the utmost to prevent the recurrence of such ignorant criminality.

The reader of these Memoirs will agree that Andrew Kettle redeemed in full measure that boyhood vow, and that his son Tom’s epitaph for him was well earned:

“None served Ireland better, few served her as well.”



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The Material for Victory: The Memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle Copyright © 2023 by Laurence J. Kettle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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