Kettle, Andrew Joseph (1833–1916), agrarian reformer, was born in September 1833 in Drynam House, Swords, Co. Dublin, one among six children of Thomas Kettle, a prosperous farmer, and his wife, Alice (née Kavanagh). His maternal grandmother, Mary O'Brien, had smuggled arms to United Irishmen in the district in 1798, while her future husband, Billy Kavanagh, had been a senior figure in the movement. His education at the local national school was cut short (c.1846) when he was called to help full-time on the farm. Though an autodidact and always a forceful writer, he was beset later by an exaggerated sense of his ‘defective education and want of talking powers’ (Kettle, 45). Fascinated by politics, he enjoyed the repeal excitement of 1841–4 and in his late teens spoke once or twice at Tenant League meetings in Swords. Through the 1850s and most of the 1860s he set about expanding the family farm into a composite of fertile holdings in Swords, St Margaret's, Artane, and Malahide (c.150 acres). Getting on well with the Russell-Cruise family of Swords, his first landlords, he benefited from a favourable leasehold arrangement on their demesne in the early 1860s. The farm was mostly in tillage, though Kettle also raised some fat cattle and Clydesdale horses (sold to Guinness's).
He first entered politics c.1867, when he disagreed with John Paul Byrne of Dublin corporation in public and in print over the right of graziers to state aid during an outbreak of cattle distemper. In 1868 he joined an agricultural reform group initiated by Isaac Butt (qv). He became friendly with Butt and later claimed to have converted him to support tenant right; his memoirs (which are somewhat egocentric) contain a number of such questionable claims. It was, however, the case that he habitually wrote up, for his own use, cogent summaries of the direction of current political tendencies, which sometimes became useful confidential briefs for Butt and later Parnell. He was among the published list of subscribers to the Home Rule League in July 1870. Disappointed by the 1870 land act, he organised c.1872 a Tenants’ Defence Association (TDA) in north Co. Dublin, soon sensing the need for a central body to coordinate the grievances of similar groups around the country. The Dublin TDA effectively acted as this central body, under his guidance as honorary secretary. At the general election of 1874 the Dublin TDA decided to challenge the electoral control of certain corporation interests in Co. Dublin. Kettle secured the cautious approval of Cardinal Paul Cullen (qv) for any candidate supporting the principle of denominational education. He was also one of a deputation to ask C. S. Parnell (qv) to fight the constituency (which the latter lost). Kettle became closely acquainted with Parnell, who frequently attended Dublin TDA meetings after his election for Co. Meath in April 1875.
Taking a sombre view of the threat of famine in the west of Ireland after evidence of crop failure appeared in early summer 1879, Kettle called a conference of TDA delegates at the European Hotel in Bolton St., Dublin, in late May. After a heated debate in which a proposal for a rent strike (made by a radical tenant element, including Kettle) was greatly modified, Parnell came to seek Kettle's advice on whether to become involved in the evolving land agitation in Co. Mayo. Kettle urged him to go to the Westport meeting set for 8 June 1879, and claimed later to have stressed in passing that ‘if you keep in the open you can scarcely go too far or be too extreme on the land question’ (Kettle, 22). If the incident was correctly recounted, this was a most important statement, which virtually defined Parnell's oratorical strategy throughout the land war. In October 1879 Kettle agreed to merge the TDA with a new Irish National Land League, set up at a meeting in the Imperial Hotel, Dublin, chaired by Kettle. As honorary secretary of the Land League, Kettle frankly admitted that he was able to attend meetings without ‘the necessity of working’ (ibid., 23). His attendance was, however, among the most regular of all League officers: he took part in 73 of 107 meetings scheduled between December 1879 and October 1881.
In March 1880 he disputed Davitt's reluctance to use League funds in the general election. He canvassed vigorously together with Parnell in Kildare, Carlow, and Wicklow and was later pressed by his party leader into standing for election in Co. Cork, though aware that the local tenant movement had already prepared their own candidates. His association with Parnell antagonised the catholic hierarchy in Munster, who issued a condemnation of his candidacy. The hurly-burly of this election created the persistent impression that Kettle was anti-clerical in politics, and he was defeated by 151 votes. On a train journey to Ballinasloe in early April 1880, Kettle confided to Parnell his idea that land purchase could be facilitated by the recovery of tax allegedly charged in excess on Ireland by the British government since the act of union. At League meetings in June and July 1880 he advanced his ‘catastrophist’ plan: to cease attempts to prevent the development of an irresistible crisis among the Irish smallholding population, by diverting the application of League funds from general relief solely to the aid of evicted tenants, who might be temporarily housed ‘encamped like gypsies and the land lying idle’ (Bew, 112), in the belief that the British government would thereby be compelled to introduce radical remedial legislation. Smallholders did not have enough faith in either League or parliamentary politicians to listen. At a meeting of the League executive in London and in Paris, before and after Davitt's arrest on 3 February 1881, Kettle presented his plan that the parliamentary party should, if faced with coercive legislation, withdraw from Westminster, ‘concentrate’ in Ireland, and call a general rent strike. Republicans on the League executive continually found themselves embarrassed by Kettle's radical calls to action motivated solely by the project of agrarian reform. Parnell was later supposed to have lamented party failure to execute the plan at this juncture.
Kettle was arrested in June 1881 for calling for a collective refusal of rent. After two weeks in Naas jail he was transferred to Kilmainham, where in October he was, with some misgivings (considering that the optimal time had passed), one of the signatories to the no-rent manifesto. Discharged from Kilmainham in late December 1881 owing to poor health, he returned principally to work on the family farm for most of the 1880s, though he claimed to have formulated a draft solution for the plight of the agricultural labourer and ‘pushed it through’ (Kettle, 60) in correspondence with Parnell. He reemerged in 1890 to defend Parnell after the divorce scandal broke (though privately telling him that his conduct was sinful). Attempting to establish a new ‘centre’ party independent of extreme catholic and protestant interests, he stood for election as a Parnellite at a by-election in Carlow (April 1891), where he was comprehensively beaten, having endured weeks of insinuating harangues by Tim Healy (qv), and raucous mob insults to the din of tin kettles bashed by women and children at meetings around the county. He was intermittently involved in Co. Dublin politics in the 1890s and 1900s and maintained a brusque correspondence on matters of the day in the national press. He died 22 September 1916, at his residence, St. Margaret's, Co. Dublin, anguished by the reported death that month of his brilliant son, Tom Kettle (qv), in France; he is buried at St. Colmcille's cemetery, Swords.
He married Margaret, daughter of Laurence McCourt of Newtown, St Margaret's, Co. Dublin, farmer and agricultural commodity factor. They had five sons and six daughters.