Thursday, 24 September 2020


25 September 1917: Thomas Ashe died on this day. It was the 5th day of his Hunger Strike to secure Political Status for Republican prisoners. He was born in Kinard, a townland on the eastern side of the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry. His parents, Gregory Ashe and Ellen Hanafin, were farmers. They spoke English and Irish in their household and were strong Nationalists. Thomas trained to be a Teacher at De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 and  began his teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk Co Dublin in 1908. He taught Irish in the Corduff school. He was fond of the Irish language and started branches of the Gaelic League in Skerries and other neighbouring villages.

Ashe joined the Irish Volunteers upon its foundation in November 1913. He was a member of the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League. He was also a member of the Lusk company of the Volunteers and probably founded it. He sat on the governing body of the Gaelic League and collected considerable sums of money during a trip to the USA in 1914 for both the Volunteers and the League.

He took part in the Easter Rising in 1916. Ashe was commandant of 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade; a force of 60–70 men engaged British forces around north County Dublin during the Rising. His column met with some success at the village of Ashbourne in Co Meath. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers were killed during the five-and-a-half-hour battle. He was tried by the British and along with Eamon de Valera was sentenced to death but these were commuted and both were given Life in prison instead. They were sent to serve their sentences in Frognoch Internment Camp Wales.

Released from captivity in June 1917 the was in August again arrested and charged with 'sedition' for a speech that he had made in Ballinalee, County Longford. He was detained at the Curragh but was then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. He was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including Austin Stack demanded prisoner of war status.

As this protest evolved Ashe again went on hunger strike on 20 September 1917. As this was a breach of prison discipline the authorities retaliated by taking away the prisoners' beds, bedding and boots. After five or six days lying on a cold stone floor the prisoners were subjected to forcible feeding. On 25 September, his fellow Kerryman, Fionan Lynch saw Ashe being carried away to receive this treatment and called out to him: ' Stick it Tom boy'. Ashe called back 'I'll stick it, Fin'. That was the last time they spoke to each other. Ashe was carried back, blue in the face and unconscious. He was removed to the Mater Hospital across the road from the prison where he died within a few hours.

His death on Hunger Strike had a huge impact both at home and abroad. It reminded the Irish People once again that there were men prepared to give their lives for Ireland until she was Free from Foreign Rule. 30,000 people filed past his coffin layed out in State in the City Hall.

At the inquest into his death, the jury condemned the staff at the prison for the "inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct". His death through being forced fed elicited widespread revulsion amongst the Irish people and his funeral acted as a catalyst to the further growth of the Sinn Fein Party and Republican ideals.

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