The station was originally called Glanmire Road Station, but was renamed for Thomas Kent in 1966 on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
The station opened on 2 February 1893 and the current building was built in the same year. The station replaced two earlier stations that served as separate termini for the Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR) and Youghal Railway. The original GS&WR station for the Glanmire line was located directly in front of the portal of the tunnel through which the railway into Cork passed. And the original Cork & Youghal Railway terminus was above the tunnel portal.
The purpose of the new station was to allow through running of trains, following the 1865 takeover of the Cork and Youghal Railway by the Great Southern and Western Railway. The station is the only one of the 6 Cork railway stations that exists today.
On 24 February 2012, Kent Station briefly shut after it sprung a gas leak.
On 18 December 2013, part of the canopy over platforms 1 and 2 collapsed in high winds. There was damage to one train and one person suffered minor injuries. In February 2014 €2.8 million has been allocated to repair the canopy.
The station offers direct intercity rail services to Heuston Station and stations in Kerry such as Killarney, Farranfore (for Kerry Airport) and Tralee. Cork Suburban Rail services follow the Cobh and Mallow lines. A new commuter line also operates to Midleton.
Planning permission was granted by Cork City Council in July 2013 for a new entrance building onto Horgan's Quay and a new bi-directional road linking Railway Street/Alfred Street and Horgan's Quay. The plan also included bus shelters, a new Car park with 140 spaces and a set-down area accessed from Horgan's Quay for taxis and buses.
In February 2014 €3 million was allocated towards implementing phase one including site works and detailed planning. Work began in summer 2014.
In September 2014 Irish Rail submitted a new application for two rather than one entrance building onto the quayside. The entrances will be smaller and will be connected to the southern end of the station’s existing underpass.
Planning was granted to Irish Rail by Cork City Council for this new application and Irish rail put the entrance building project out to tender in early 2015. It is hoped construction will commerce in summer 2015. Separately the new road project is planned to commence in early 2016 with its completion to coincide with the completion of the entrance building contract in late 2016.