Book Honours Memory Of Thomas Ashe Who Died On Hunger Strike

On Monday 17 September 1917 a request was made by the Defence of the Realm prisoners in Mountjoy prison for prisoner-of-war treatment.  When this request was refused the prisoners began a hunger strike. At 5 p.m. on 25 September, Thomas Ashe was transferred to the Mater Hospital where he died at 10.30 p.m.

An inquest into his death was opened at the Mater on Thursday 27 September by the city coroner, Dr Louis A. Byrne. It was resumed on the following day at the Coroner’s Court and developed into a long and dramatic inquiry which did not end until 1 November. During the inquest the prison doctor, Dr Lowe, maintained that no force was used to against Ashe. However, other prisoners, Austin Stack and Fionán Lynch, gave evidence that Lowe virtually rammed the feeding tube down their throats. In contrast to Lowe’s claims, an examination by Professor McWeeney at the Mater Hospital revealed horrific facial and throat injuries including: twelve superficial scratches averaging half an inch in length on the right side of Ashe’s face, nine superficial excoriations on the chin, six or seven point-like excoriations below his lip, a small number of excoriations near the Adam’s apple and beyond the thyroid cartilage a semilunar depression such as would be caused by pressure of a thumbnail.

Ashe’s tragic and avoidable death at the age of thirty-two, not only removed him from the centre stage of Irish life, but in large measure from the national historical memory. I Die in a Good Cause – Thomas Ashe: A Biography tells the story of his life. Originally from west Kerry, Ashe was a schoolteacher in north Co. Dublin and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers. During the 1916 Rising he commanded the Fingal Battalion of the Volunteers, who were tasked with destroying the communications network of the British establishment north of Dublin city. His battalion won a major victory in Ashbourne, Co. Meath.  Twenty-four hours after the Rising collapsed, Ashe’s battalion surrendered on the orders of Patrick Pearse.  On 8 May 1916, Ashe and Éamon 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 where he led a hunger strike in May 1917.  He was released under a general amnesty in June. He was re-arrested in August for a speech he made in Co. Longford and was imprisoned in Mountjoy.  Michael Collins delivered the oration at his funeral. The circumstances of his death and funeral became one of the key factors in tipping public opinion towards supporting the cause of the 1916 rebels.

I Die in a Good Cause – Thomas Ashe: A Biography has been reprinted by Mercier Press to commemorate the centenary of his untimely death. Available nationwide from 9 August. RRP €14.99.


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