Thomas Ashe remembered 100 years after his death on Hunger-strike

Transcript below of the oration I delivered for the 100th Anniversary commemoration on the death of Irish Patriot Thomas Ashe.

Oration was delivered in Duleek, Co. Meath on 23rd September 2017



Today is the 100th Anniversary of the death of the great Irish Patriot Thomas Ashe, he was only 32 years old when he died on Hungerstrike. Please see below the transcript of the oration I gave in memory of him at the 100th Anniversary commemoration, organised by Duleek Hunger Strike monument committee.
The First Republican hunger-striker! That is how Thomas Ashe is remembered by Republicans today, he does not just stand out in Irish history as being the first hunger striker to die; he was so much more than that.
Thomas was born on 12th January, 1885, the seventh of ten children to Gregory and Ellen Ashe. Thomas was born in another period of upheaval in Ireland, as the land agitation across the country threatened British rule. He grew up in the townland of Kinnard, near Dingle in Kerry. His father Gregory instilled in his son a great love of Irish language, literature and culture that was to continue throughout his life.
As a young man, he would become prominent in the Gaelic League and the GAA in Kerry. Thomas' other great love was teaching, and on the 16th March 1908, took up his position as the headmaster of the Corduff National School in the parish of Lusk, in north County Dublin. It was a job he would continue in until Easter Week 1916.
As well as being an excellent teacher, he instilled in his pupils a love of Irish history and national identity - which often led to the disapproval by school inspectors. In Sean O'Luing's biography of Ashe, one pupil recalls:
"He taught us all the Fenian songs and rebel ballads which of course were not on the programme."
Another recalls Ashe's geography lessons, where he would point to England on a world map and humorously remark: "Never mind it boys, it will disappear one of these days."
But let there be no mistake of the progressive nature of Thomas' republican ideals! A cousin of Ashe's would recall:
"Thomas Ashe had a terrific love of Ireland but he was not bitter against England. Thomas just wanted freedom for Ireland”
By all accounts, Thomas Ashe was an active member of the nation - engaging in areas of Irish language, sport, and of course, politics. One noted aspect of his legacy is being the founder of the Black Raven Piper's Band in Lusk, still in existence today.
Of course, the founding of the Irish Volunteers led to the most important aspect of Thomas Ashe's activism. After the Redmond-ite split in 1914, he remained true to his nationalist beliefs and remained with the minority, becoming commander of the fifth battalion.
That he ascended to such a position so quickly demonstrates his natural leadership and skill that he would put to good use in Easter Week 1916. In this time, he also was a member of the secret society known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
In was in this role as commandant, which had Thomas lead the Fingal Battalion during Easter Week, which included over 30 of the Volunteers, attacking a number of RIC Barracks across north county Dublin in those important few days. Thomas was overjoyed to soon receive a message from James Connolly in the GPO, reading:
"The Republican flag still flies triumphantly over Dublin City. There will be glorious days for Ireland yet."
At the Battle of Ashbourne, his Volunteers attacked the RIC Barracks until it surrendered, losing two of their comrades. It was one of the few military engagements outside Dublin city centre during Easter Week, and the most outright military victory; most notably, his tactical genius foresaw the more successful guerrilla tactics later used by Oglaigh na hEireann during the Tan War. It does make you wonder how much his talents could have helped during the latter conflicts had he have lived.
Following the Rising, he was arrested, court-martialled and sentenced to death like so many others. With the outcry over the first fifteen executions, he was barely saved, with his sentence later being commuted to life imprisonment. He would spend months in various British jails, all the while planning with his comrades the next blow to strike for Irish freedom.
As part of a general amnesty in June 1917, Thomas was released and immediately got back involved with the national movement, his stint in Jail doing nothing to dampen his desire to see Irish independence. In this period, Thomas was elected President of the IRB.
He travelled the country campaigning for Sinn Féin and the republican cause, making many addresses to the people of Ireland to gather support, just over 1 month after his release he was re-arrested for making seditious speeches and jailed in Mountjoy Prison.
While imprisoned he demanded to be treated as a prisoner of war, like republicans since he refused to wear a prison uniform, when his demands where rejected he along with 6 of his comrades embarked upon a hunger strike for Political Status. While on hunger-strike the authorities savagely put Thomas in a straitjacket and force-fed him, they made constant pleas for him to end his strike; however he was not for turning stating:
“They have branded me a criminal. Even though if I die, I die in a good cause"
On the third day of his strike, he collapsed shortly after the force feeding; they had pierced his lung while administering the cruel act. He was later released and taken to the nearby Mater Hospital where two days later, Thomas Ashe died. His funeral to Glasnevin and burial in the Republican Plot there would be a seminal moment in these years.
The Jail struggle has been a constant in Irish republicanism, from the great Fenian O’Donovan O’Rossa to the present day with Prisoners such as Tony Taylor, who is currently interned in Maghaberry Jail.
Since Thomas Ashe gave his life on hunger-strike, 21 fellow Irish men have also died while Hunger Strike, the most recent being the 10 H-Block hunger strikers of 1981 led by Bobby Sands. The memories of all Hunger strikers is held dearly by the Irish people, monuments are dotted throughout the country and indeed today we stand in a memorial garden to the hunger-strikers, beautifully maintained by the Duleek Hunger-strike monument committee.
Like Thomas Ashe and many Republicans before us, we today have our own set of present struggles, we have scores of political prisoners in Ireland, and the corrupt Freestate Government is intent on seeing this number rise even further, with their spate of trumped up IRA membership charges against Political activists.
The Insult of these trumped up charges is that a person arrested does not have to have been arrested doing anything, all is needed to arrest and remand someone to Portlaoise prison is the word of a Garda Superintendent, and as we all know they hardly qualify as the most honest of people, in the last few years alone the scandals in this Police force have been outrageous, from falsifying motorists breath tests, to fabricating explosives finds. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the Garda Siochana is the most corrupt Police force in Europe.
If that is not bad enough currently we have the ominous super-grass at work in the shape of Tout Dave Cullen, betrayers and deceivers are the curse of the Irish Nation, in every generation we have them, genuine Republicans who act in good faith fall prey to the duplicitous nature of the Tout, they are a conceited bunch who are bought and paid for by the highest bidder, even their handlers know they are liars and conmen, and when their usefulness expires they are cast aside like the human garbage that they are.
Those who are victims of these insidious creatures may spend years of their lives incarcerated, but they can hold their heads high, they are men and women of integrity and honour, while the crawling and scraping tout usually lives out a life of a desperate and pathetic wretch, begging for British handouts and as we have seen recently with Seán O’Callaghan ending his life a pathetic drunk choking on his own vomit in a pool.
But! for every generation where we face the curse of the informer, so too do we have the dedicated, loyal and honest Republican, I do not believe this generation is any different. Against all the odds, the criminalisation attempts, the factions, the continued British Occupation and harassment, I see a vibrancy of renewed optimism. Albeit Republicanism is fractured and weary, but we are not broken, we are still here; they have not succeeded in their normalisation plans.
The ongoing partition of this country propped up by the constitutionals both north and south stands in direct opposition to the Republic to which we all pledge our allegiance, our focus must be on the establishment of that All Ireland Republic, a permanent national government which will work for all the people.
It is time to stop looking to the past, stop worrying about what the politicos in Stormont and Leinster house are doing. Our only interest in Stormont or Leinster house must be to smash it!
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, for Republicans to even contemplate flirting with constitutional politics is absolutely insane, it didn’t work for Fine Gael, it didn’t work for Fianna Fáil, it didn’t work for Provisional Sinn Féin and it won’t work for us.
Dropping abstentionism was always the Trojan horse used to undermine the Republican movement when winning; the lesson from all these abject failures is there is no parliamentary Road to Freedom, it moves us back not forward, Irish Independence will only be borne out of Radical Revolutionary Republican action.
As in 1917, we must today be wary of those who would have us stray from the path of republicanism and the establishment of a true Republic, even from unexpected quarters and those we might consider allies.
Recall that on the day of Thomas Ashe's funeral in Glasnevin, after the volley of shots over Ashe's grave, a man in a Volunteer uniform stepped forward and said so memorably:
"Nothing additional remains to be said. That volley, which we have just heard, is the only speech which is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian."
Well, that man was Michael Collins, who in only a few years would betray the ideals of his dead comrade Thomas Ashe, and lead a counter-revolution that sought to overthrow the Republic of 1916.
Collins offered an alternative to the Republic in the shape of the Freestate, we have current people offering alternatives to the Republic, let us take the lessons from history and reaffirm here today that we will accept nothing less than a united Independent Ireland. There are no alternatives.
In closing it is appropriate to end with the words of Ashe himself, he gave an oration to a gathered crowd at Casement Fort, Co. Kerry in memory of his comrade, the great Roger Casement, who had been executed a year prior.
He said:

“The voice of each succeeding patriot and martyr ringing from the scaffold is but another call - a trumpet call to the generations that are to come. The attempt which is meant to strike terror into the hearts of patriots, reveals only a fierce resolve to be ever more determined, to resist all that tyranny can do, to crush the spirit of liberty”
With his words, Thomas Ashe left for us a call to continue the fight for the Republic, let us not be found wanting in this task.

An phobhlacht abú

A video of the Oration can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/cait.trainor/posts/10210270252178073?pnref=story



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