1885 – Birth of patriot and nationalist, Thomas Ashe, in Lispole, Co Kerry.

‘If I die, I die in a good cause.’ –Thomas Ashe shortly before his death.

Thomas Patrick Ashe was born in Lispole, Co Kerry. He trained as a teacher in De La Salle College, Waterford and worked as a school principal in Lusk, Co Dublin. Ashe also enjoyed writing poetry and was a talented singer.

Ashe was a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers. Having been brought up in a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) region of Ireland, Ashe was an enthusiastic supporter of the Irish language, and his work brought him to the governing body of the Gaelic League. He collected considerable sums of money during a trip to the USA in 1914 for both the Volunteers and the League.

When the Rising broke out in Dublin at Easter 1916, Ashe was in command of a detachment of Volunteers who moved along in stages to Ashbourne, Co Meath. Although largely outnumbered, they managed to defeat armed Royal Irish Constabulary troops and capture four police barracks and large quantities of arms and ammunition. When the Rising ended, Ashe and his men surrendered on the orders of Pádraig Pearse.

On the 8th May 1916, Ashe and Éamon de Valera were court-martialled and sentenced to death. Both sentences were commuted to life, and Ashe was sent to a variety of English prisons.

Thomas Ashe was released from jail in June 1917 under the general amnesty which was given to republican prisoners. Upon his release, he returned to Ireland and began a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, after a speech in Ballinalee, Longford, where Michael Collins had also been speaking, he was arrested and charged with “speeches calculated to cause disaffection”. He was sentenced to one year’s hard labour in Mountjoy Jail.

Ashe, along with Austin Stack, who was also in Mountjoy demanded to be treated as prisoners-of-war. Having been deprived of a bed, bedding and boots Ashe went on hunger strike on 20th September 1917. On 25th September 1917 he died from pneumonia, which was caused by force-feeding by the prison authorities. He was 32 years old.

Ashe’s death marked a significant increase in support for the Republican movement. His body lay in state at Dublin City Hall and his funeral was followed by 30,000 people, led by armed Volunteers in uniform as it made its way to Glasnevin Cemetery. It was the first public funeral after the Easter Rising of 1916. Michaell Collins gave the graveside oration.

Thomas Ashe’s relatives still live in Co Kerry and he was also related to American actor, Gregory Peck. His papers were donated to the library in Dingle, Co Kerry.

About 1913 Tom Ashe applied (unsuccessfully) for a position as a teacher in a junior school in a small town – Edenderry in Co Offaly. After his death, thousands of copies of “The last poem of Thomas Ashe”, which he wrote in Lewes Jail, England, were circulated.’ Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord’…contained a prophecy that did not come true… “And few are the tears will fall for me….When I go on my way to you.”

‘Let me Carry your Cross for Ireland, Lord’
By Thomas Ashe

Let me carry your Cross for Ireland, Lord
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 Ireland, Lord
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 Ireland, Lord!
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 Ireland, Lord!
For Ireland weak with tears,
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 Ireland, Lord!
for the cause of Roisin Dubh.

Photo credit: 1916 Easter Revolution in Colour

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