Thomas Ashe: Career and Public Life

Portrait of Tómas Aghas
Ashe at Casement Fort, 1917

Thomas Ashe was born in 1885 into an Ireland where the Land War was at its height. He attended Ardamore National School and after completing his education there, he began a five year term as monitor or assistant teacher in Ardamore.

His deep interest in the Irish language and culture led him to become an active member of the Gaelic League, an organisation devoted to the revival of all things Gaelic.

He entered De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 at the age of twenty to train as a national teacher. After qualification he began his teaching career as principal in Corduff National School, Lusk, Co. Dublin n 1908.

When the Irish Volunteers were formed in 1913 Ashe joined and in 1915 he was elected Leader of the Fingal Volunteers in Dublin. To Ashe the opportunity of rising in arms for Ireland was "an honour only few generations of the people of Ireland" received.

He led the Fingal Battalion in the Easter Rising of 1916 culminating in a victory at Ashbourne.

The Rising, however, was unsuccessful but soon proved to be a turning point in Irish history leading to Irish Independence a few short years later. For his part in the Rising, Ashe was court-martialled and sentenced to death. This was later committed to penal servitude for life.

He served some time in a number of English jails and was released in the Amnesty of June 1917.

He was arrested again in August 1917 on the charge of inciting disaffection amongst the civil population. For this he was sentenced to two years hard labour. When the authorities turned down the request by Ashe and fellow prisoners for political treatment they went on hunger strike.

Ashe was forcibly fed on a number of occasions and was mistreated by the prison authorities.

Thomas Ashe died on 25 September from the effects of forced feeding.

His funeral procession from the City Hall in Dublin where he lay in state to Glasnevin cemetery brought the city of Dublin to a standstill and was testament to the esteem in which he was held.

Michael Collins gave the short and powerful oration at his graveside.

"Nothing additional remains to be said. That volley which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian"

Thomas Ashe was 32 when he died. Michael Collins, aged only 27 when he gave the graveside oration, himself was killed five years later also at the age of 32.

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