Pictured Grandsonof thomas Ashe at the presentation of bust in 1957
Men do not die easily…their work half done. But had they known for them the task was done. They fought and tried, but burst their hearts, yet no job was better done”.
In the long history of the Irish people it can be truly said that the days of Easter Week, 1916, were days which will forever shine with a bright annals of our nation. The rising was looked upon by the majority, as a failure. The men that took part in the Easter Rising kept alive the spirit and soul of the nation. Those heroic men offered their lives when they they signed the proclamation. People called them fools – a handful of Irish insurgents against the mighty, British Empire. But Pierce himself said “In a few years people will see what we have tried to do. It is only now that we fully realize how well “the job was done.” Much has been written of these brave men, to name but a few, Pearse, Connolly, Clarke and McDonagh. One man we must pay a tribute to was a man who was prepared to “carry his cross for
‘If I die, I die in a good cause’, the haunting words of Thomas Ashe, spoken just prior to his death on hunger strike in 1917. Thomas Ashe packed much into his short life; school principal, active member of the Gaelic League, Commandant of the 5th Battalion of the Irish Volunteers in 1916, trade unionist, life sentence prisoner, President of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
Born in 1885 in Kinard east of Dingle, Co. Kerry, he was the seventh child of Gregory and Ellen Ashe, whose cottage on a hillside overlooked the inlet of Dingle Bay known as the “Traigh Beag.” Gregory Ashe farmed a small- holding which gave him the means to support his large family. In the course of time Thomas grew to manhood and by his short life and the manner of his death, he swayed the thoughts of the Irish nation. Around the glow of the turf fire on the hearth, the Ashe children would listen to their father recite verse after verse of poetry. From him they learned of the age and struggle of
In 1905 at the age of twenty, Thomas Ashe departed to the De La Salle,
He subsequently took up a position as Principal at
‘I suppose you know by this that Jim Larkin was sent to jail. He’s out for the last two or three days again. The government got afraid of a general strike in
The turning point in the life of Thomas Ashe came when he attended the founding meeting of Óglaigh na hÉireann – the Irish Volunteers – at the Rotunda, in
‘The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified
By the time of the 1916 Rising, Ashe had been appointed Commandant of the 5th Battalion of the Irish Volunteers in Fingal, North County Dublin. Despite the confusion caused by Eoin MacNeill’s infamous countermanding orders on Easter Sunday, the 5th Battalion turned out in force, with an estimated 120 Volunteers parading. With the Rising postponed until the following day, about half that number turned out on Easter Monday. This was one of the few districts outside of
The Battalion went into action on Wednesday of Easter Week when they smashed the telegraphic equipment in Swords Post Office and raided the RIC barracks in the village, before moving on to Donabate where they captured the RIC barracks there. The next target for the Battalion was to the north, the Garristown barracks, which was taken with ease. The biggest challenge would lie in capturing the reinforced barracks at Ashbourne. On Friday, the Volunteers moved to destroy the railway lines at Batterstown before advancing on their primary target. Their actions were providing inspiration to the republican forces in the city as reflected in James Connolly’s manifesto issued from the GPO on Friday 28th April:
This is the fifth day of the establishment of the Irish Republic, and the flag of our country still floats from the most important buildings in the country.....The men of north County Dublin are in the field, having occupied all the Police Barracks in the district, destroyed all the telegraph on the Great Northern Railway up to Dundalk, and are operating against the trains of the Midland and the Great Western……Courage boys we are winning…. Never had man or woman a cause, never was a cause more grandly served.
Signed, James Connolly, Commandant General,
The ensuing Battle of Ashbourne is considered to be one of the most audacious engagements of Easter Week. The manner in which Ashe and the Battalion had sliced through enemy forces in the north County had forced the RIC to reinforce their base at Ashbourne. The Volunteers were not to be deterred. Despite being severely outnumbered and having come under surprise attack from almost 100 RIC men, who had arrived in haste from Slane, they maintained their discipline, defended their ground and ultimately put the RIC force to flight. The Barracks was captured and cleared of weapons. Ashe ordered the surviving RIC officers to return home but warned them of the peril of taking up arms against the
On Sunday, two days after the battle, Pádraig Pearse’s orders to surrender reached Fingal. Despondent, the Volunteers made their way to Swords and from there were transported to Richmond Barracks in
My dear Tomas,
I was delighted to get your letter and especially so to hear that you are in such good form notwithstanding your present surroundings….Though your absence is a loss to the language at home, still by all accounts it is compensated to an extent by your being over there. I understand you are turning out some great students……Bean a tighe desires to be remembered to yourself. We have your photo in the dining room and she remembers you distinctly. When you call up, which please God will be soon, she will easily recognise you and welcome you in the language you love best….Good luck to you now my dear Tomas.
1917 marked resurgence in support for the Republican movement. Spurred on by the victory of Count Plunkett, father of executed leader Joseph Plunkett, in the North Roscommon by-election, Joe McGuinness, a prisoner in Lewes, was selected to contest the
It was not long before Ashe threw himself back into action. By this time he had already succeeded Pádraig Pearse as President of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Upon their release the prisoners, representative of Commandants who fought in 1916, sent a letter to the President of the
June 18, 1917.
‘We, the undersigned have just had the opportunity of seeing the printed text of the message of the United States of America to the Provisional Government of Russia. We see that the President accepts as the main aim of both countries, ‘the carrying of the present struggle for the freedom of all peoples to a successful consummation’ ….what the governments and people of other nations, will, we trust, regard as even more sacred, the right of each people to defend itself against external aggression, external interference and external control. It is this particular right that we claim for the Irish people, and not content with statements of principle, though these themselves may be made a pretext for our oppression, we are engaged and mean to engage ourselves in practical means for establishing this right….’
Ashe declined the nomination to contest the East Clare by-election, and instead supported Éamon de Valera’s nomination. Following an electrifying campaign, de Valera romped home, polling twice the number of votes as his Home Rule opponent. Ashe embarked on a speaking tour, travelling the country addressing countless rallies. In July following an address at Ballinalee Co. Longford, a warrant was issued for his arrest under the Defence of the Realm Act. The British authorities determined that he had made a speech ‘likely to cause disaffection.’ Not to be deflected, Ashe returned to his native Kerry and spoke at the first anniversary commemoration for Roger Casement. Addressing the events of Easter Week 1916, he struck a defiant chord:
‘Our opponents tell us we were criminal idealists. You can see that the men of Easter Week were the most practical Nationalists that ever lived in
Ashe’s liberty was short-lived and in mid August he was arrested in
The Mayor of Dublin Laurence O’Neill visited the prisoners and witnessed for himself the conditions in which the prisoners were being held. Ashe had spent over 50 hours in a bare cell in freezing conditions and to add to their privations, the prisoners on hunger-strike were forced to endure the torture of force feeding, whereby their hands and feet were bound and a rubber tube was forcibly placed into their mouth or nose and food pumped into their stomach. It was following one of these sessions that Thomas Ashe fell gravely ill and was rushed to the Mater hospital. His condition rapidly deteriorated and he died on the night of 25th September 1917. Ashe was known the length and breadth of
‘We find that the deceased Thomas Ashe died of heart failure and congestion of the lungs on 25th September, 1917; that his death was caused by the punishment of taking away from the cell bed, bedding and boots, and allowing him to be on the cold floor for 50 hours, and then subjecting him to forcible feeding in his weak condition after hunger striking for five or six days. We censure the Castle Authorities for not acting more promptly, especially when the grave condition of the deceased and other prisoners was brought to their notice. That the hunger strike was adopted against the inhuman punishment inflicted and a refusal to their demand to be treated as political prisoners.’
Thomas Ashe’s body lay in state in
‘The body of Thomas Ashe lay in state in Dublin’s City Hall for two days and tens of thousands passed before it, many weeping, many angry, all sharing a new pride…The day came, and through Dublin passed a cortege the like of which had not been seen since the death of Parnell. Leading the marching host were Volunteers in full uniform, carrying rifles. There was a hush over the city at the daring of it. Everyone wondered would the challenge be accepted; would the troops suddenly bar the way of the Volunteers?
The coffin was carried from the City Hall on the shoulders of Ashe’s comrades. Nearly two hundred priests in their white surplices, mayors and councillors in their red robes, fell in behind the mourners, and as they moved slowly away, the great contingents took their place in the procession from the neighbouring streets; teachers, labourers, athletes, football and hurling leagues, Sinn Féin clubs, Cumann na mBan, Foresters in their colourful uniforms, and many others. The slow beat of drums, the caoining of war pipes, the cry of funeral music filled the air.
Soon one sound overcame them all: the beat of marching feet. The footpaths from the City Hall to Glasnevin were packed tight; the windows were crowded; every statue and vantage point on the way had its watchers, but it was the swing of the Volunteers, in brigades, battalions and companies, and of the 10,000 members of the Trade Unions, led by the Citizen Army, that dominated everything.
The Volunteers had come from all over the country: Sligo, Donegal,
….To the beat of muffled drums, the host of mourners slow-marched through the cemetery gates…..Clear into the air the trumpets flung the salute of the Last Post, and as the final note wavered into silence, there came sharp commands, and the three volleys were fired, to be echoed challengingly from near-by houses as every Volunteer stiffened at the sound of Irish arms being used again in Ireland’s name.
A tall, handsome, pale-faced man stepped forward. He was in the uniform of a Volunteer officer. Few at this time knew him, and had to learn his name from the next day’s papers: “Vice-Commandant M. Collins.” He spoke a funeral oration characteristic of the new Ireland that had been born:
“The volley we have just heard is the only speech it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian.”’
The death of Thomas Ashe became one of the milestones in
He and his comrades died in the certainty that the seed that they had sown would flourish.
After his death, thousands of copies of the last poem written by him in Lewes Jail were circulated. ‘Let me Carry your Cross for
“And few are the tears that fall for me…. When I go on my way to you.”
Let me Carry your Cross for
, Lord Ireland
by Thomas Ashe
Let me carry your Cross for
The hour of her trial draws near,
And the pangs and the pains of the sacrifice
May be borne by comrades dear.
But, Lord, take me from the offering throng,
There are many far less prepared,
Through anxious and all as they are to die
That Ireland may be spared.
Let me carry your Cross for
My cares in this world are few.
And few are the tears will for me fall
When I go on my way to You.
Spare. Oh! Spare to their loved ones dear
The brother and son and sire.
That the cause we love may never die
In the land of our Heart's desire!
Let me carry your Cross for
Let me suffer the pain and shame
I bow my head to their rage and hate,
And I take on myself the blame.
Let them do with my body whate'er they will,
My spirit I offer to You.
That the faithful few who heard her call
May be spared to Roisin Dubh.
Let me carry your Cross for
For the aged man of the clouded brow,
And the child of tender years;
For the empty homes of her golden plains;
For the hopes of her future, Too!
Let me carry your Cross for
for the cause of Roisin Dubh.
Every time you enter the Study Hall look at the bronze bust of Thomas Ashe remember what he did to make you free.