Monday, September 26, 2016

Celtic Corner - September/October 2016

On September 25 (2016) we remember Thomas Patrick Ashe  (b. 12th January 1885 – d. 25th September 1917) who was a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers.

 
Thomas was born in Lispole, Co. Kerry. Having entered De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 he began his teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk, Co. Dublin, in 1908. He spent his last years before his death teaching children in Lusk, where he founded the award-winning Lusk Black Raven Pipe Band as well as Round Towers Lusk Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club in 1906. During the summer of 1913, Douglas Hyde, president of the Gaelic League, attempted to expel him and other members.

Commanding the Finglas battalion of the Irish Volunteers, Ashe took a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city. Ashe was commandant of 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade; a force of 60–70 men engaged British forces around north Co. Dublin during the rising. Ashe was sent a messenger Mollie Adrian by Pearse ordered to hold the main road from Fairyhouse. She was sent back to report to Connolly, who returned an order to send 40 men to the GPO. He was to contact 1st battalion at Cross Guns Bridge, although he found no one there because vice-commandant Piaras Beaslai knew nothing of this plan. The area was dominated by the central feature of Broadstone station, at the end of the line to Athlone, an important British army barracks. 

But for some reason they decided not to occupy and garrison the station; similarly the Citizens Army had been confusingly required to withdraw from Mallin. The lack of co-operative communication was later discussed in Piaras Beaslai's books, the research for which included taking accounts from Thomas Ashe whilst they were incarcerated. The failure of inexperienced volunteers to properly co-ordinate their deployments was a critical factor at defeat. Ashe himself had only been appointed commandant shortly before Easter. They were armed only with a few rounds, about a dozen service rifles, a dozen Mausers, and a dozen Martini carbines; some had only a shotgun against well-equipped army regulars.

The battalion won a major victory in Ashbourne, Co. Meath where they engaged a much larger force capturing a significant quantity of arms and up to 20 Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers were killed during the five-and-a-half-hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapsed, Ashe's battalion surrendered on the orders of Patrick Pearse. On 8th May 1916, Ashe and √Čamon de Valera were court-martialled and both were sentenced to death. The sentences were commuted to penal servitude for life. Ashe was imprisoned in Lewes Prison in England.

With the entry of the US into World War I in April 1917, the British government was put under more pressure to solve the 'Irish problem'. De Valera, Ashe and Thomas Hunter led a prisoner hunger strike on 28th May 1917 to add to this pressure. With accounts of prison mistreatment appearing in the Irish press and mounting protests in Ireland, Ashe and the remaining prisoners were freed on 18th June 1917 by Lloyd George as part of a general amnesty.

Upon release, Ashe returned to Ireland and began a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, Ashe was arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he made in Ballinalee, Co. Longford where Michael Collins had also been speaking. 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 20th September 1917. On 25th September 1917, he died at the Mater Hospital after being force-fed by prison authorities. 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".

Ashe's death had a significant impact on the country, increasing Republican recruitment. His body lay in state at Dublin City Hall, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.



-Brenda Rector, American Irish of Woodbridge - Celtic Corner Correspondent