Kent, David (Ceannt, Dáithí) (1867–1930), farmer, land activist, and republican, was born 2 February 1867 at Bawnard House, Coole, Castleyons, near Fermoy, Co. Cork, one of seven sons and two daughters of David Kent, farmer, and Mary Kent (née Rice). During the 1889 land agitation, the family – who for generations had farmed 200 acres – came to wide attention when the four brothers who had not emigrated to America were all arrested under the Balfour coercion legislation and charged with conspiring with others to evade payment of rents. Of the three who were convicted David received the longest sentence, a term of six months' imprisonment in Cork county jail, extended to nine months on his refusal to give assurance for future good behaviour. Active subsequently in the evicted tenants' organisation, he contended that every person unjustly evicted should be reinstated in a holding. After the Parnell split (1891) he and his brothers remained aloof from political activity for many years until the dawn of the Volunteer movement, when they were among the first recruits in Co. Cork (January 1914). With his brother Thomas Kent (qv), David was prominent in the recruitment of members and organisation of local companies in the county, working closely with Tomás MacCurtain (qv) and Terence MacSwiney (qv). With their brother William (see below) they organised disruption of a British army recruitment rally in Dungourney, Co. Cork, by marching the local GAA club through the assembly with shouldered hurleys, then addressed a counter-rally alongside MacSwiney (November 1915).
At Easter 1916 David and three of his brothers – Thomas, William, and Richard – were living at Bawnard with their octogenarian widowed mother. Throughout Easter week the brothers hid on neighbouring farms while awaiting mobilisation orders from Volunteer headquarters, then returned home on hearing of the surrender of the Dublin insurgents. On the early morning of 2 May, amid a roundup of Volunteer activists throughout the county, a party of constabulary approached Bawnard House to arrest one or more of the family. When the Kents refused them admission a gun battle ensued, during which RIC Head Constable William Rowe was killed and David Kent seriously wounded. The incident was the only armed clash in Co. Cork, and one of the few outside Dublin, associated with the Easter rising. Accounts of the incident by participating police and military vary substantially from those rendered in retrospective nationalist historiography. Apart from predictable differences regarding the size of the police party and the firing of the first shot, police assertions that rifles and ammunition were found in the house after the affray, and that gunplay ceased and a protracted standoff transpired after the wounding of David Kent, contradict contentions that the Kents surrendered only with their ammunition exhausted after a spirited three-hour resistance, in which their aged mother assisted.
During the two weeks that David Kent was treated for his wounds in Fermoy military hospital, his brother Thomas was executed in Cork city (9 May) for the murder of Head Constable Rowe. Transferred from Co. Cork, where feelings were running high, David Kent was tried by court martial at Richmond barracks, Dublin, for the wilful murder of Rowe, and aiding and abetting an armed rebellion (14–15 June). In a written statement read to the court he denied having had any part in the gun battle; his brother William, already acquitted on a similar murder charge, testified that all shooting from the house had been done by Richard Kent (qv) who had been mortally wounded while attempting to escape as the family surrendered. Prosecuting counsel observed that there had been four men in the house, and four guns, all of which had been fired. David Kent was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to death, with a strong recommendation to mercy on account of previous good character, as attested by an RIC district inspector. Amid the swing of public opinion pursuant to the fifteen executions of the previous month, the sentence was duly commuted to five years' penal servitude.
Kent was incarcerated in England at Dartmoor, Lewis, and Pentonville prisons, and released in the general amnesty of June 1917. Elected to the Sinn Féin executive at the October 1917 ard-fheis, in 1918 he served a six-month sentence for sedition in Kilworth camp and Spike Island. Despite his earlier selection as parliamentary candidate for Cork East, the Sinn Féin constituency executive in November 1918 passed him over for Diarmuid Lynch (qv), but after strenuous protests from William Kent rescinded its decision and conceded to David Kent the prerogative to nominate the candidate; selecting himself, he was returned unopposed in the December 1918 election. Sitting in the abstentionist first Dáil Éireann (1919–22), despite being in his fifties he saw military action during the war of independence, and was imprisoned again in 1920. Supporting the contention of Michael Collins (qv) in a 1920 dáil debate that natural resources should be taken over by county councils to prevent their exploitation by private interests, he urged specifically the public development of coal resources, against the arguments of Arthur Griffith (qv) that the business of public bodies was to attract private capital to work such deposits. Among three Sinn Féin nominees elected unopposed to the second dáil for Cork East and North-East (1921–3), he was an outspoken opponent of the Anglo–Irish treaty, and protested against the dáil decision to debate the treaty in camera.
Reelected in June 1922 but not assuming his seat in the Free State dáil, he fought in the civil war; in hiding by mid 1923, he was the only Cork anti-treaty TD still at liberty. Returned on the first count in Cork East as an abstentionist republican in the August 1923 election (1923–7), throughout the 1920s he sat on Sinn Féin's national executive. Topping the poll and elected to the fourth seat in June 1927, he was one of only five Sinn Féin candidates returned nationally amid the swing of republican electoral support toward Fianna Fáil. He complied with Sinn Féin's decision not to contest the second 1927 election owing to the electoral amendment act requiring dáil candidates to pledge to take the oath of fidelity to the crown if elected. Kent continued to attend the republican second dáil, and toured America on a Sinn Féin publicity mission (1927–8). His long service on Cork county council dated from before the 1916 rising. He was unmarried. After suffering poor health for some years, he contracted influenza while attending the funeral of another IRA veteran, and one week later died at Bawnard House on 16 November 1930.
His brother William Kent (1873–1956), farmer, land agitator, and republican, was born 27 February 1873 in Bawnard House. Active alongside his brothers in the 1880s land agitation, at age 16 during the plan of campaign he received the first of three separate prison sentences, serving a total of some eighteen months in Cork county jail. Sometime thereafter he emigrated to South Africa, but returned to Bawnard by the early 1910s. Joining the Irish Volunteers in 1914, he was active in mustering arms, and enlisting and training recruits. Pursuant to the gun battle at Bawnard House, he was tried for murder in Cork military detention barracks but acquitted on the same day that his brother Thomas was convicted and sentenced to death (4 May 1916). Becoming active in Sinn Féin, he was the first member of the party to chair Cork county council (1917), and assisted in his brother David's political work and electoral campaigns. By 1927, however, he had left Sinn Féin to enter Fianna Fáil. When David did not contest the September 1927 election, William went forward for Fianna Fáil and was elected to the fifth and final seat in Cork East (1927–32, 1933–7). Continuing the family tradition of advocating radical land initiatives, he proposed (1928) a purchase scheme for cottiers, describing it as a debt due for their part on behalf of farmers during the land war.
After losing his seat in 1932, he was nominated to contest an impending by-election, which was obviated when Éamon de Valera (qv) called a snap general election in January 1933. Kent then stunned the local Fianna Fáil organisation and the electorate by accepting the nomination of the Cork Farmers' and Ratepayers' League as candidate of the newly formed National Centre Party of Frank MacDermot (qv) and James Dillon (qv). Accusing Fianna Fáil of mismanaging the economy and the land annuities controversy to the detriment of farmers, he advocated the derating of agricultural land and a negotiated settlement of the economic war with Britain. Polling 7,712 first preferences, he was elected to the second seat on the first count, one of eleven Centre Party TDs nationally, the third largest dáil party. Within eight months the party had merged with Cumann na nGaedheal and the National Guard to form Fine Gael, Kent thus achieving the rare, but not unique, distinction of dáil service on the benches of both of the state's leading political parties. After being beaten up in his home by local Blueshirts angered by his refusal to support their tactics of sabotage and obstruction of enforcement proceedings against annuities defaulters (14 August 1934), and withstanding a boycott of his corn harvest, he publicly flayed Fine Gael's national leadership as ‘political intriguers’ heading a ‘militarised organisation’ bent on establishing ‘a dictatorship’ (Ir. Press, 10 Oct. 1934). Completing his dáil tenure as an independent, he did not contest the 1937 election. He died at Bawnard House on 8 March 1956, survived by his wife Kathleen, their two sons, and five daughters.