This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Ireland’s first hunger strike martyr Thomas Ashe.
Ashe from Lios Póil in the County Kerry Gaeltacht was a member of the Gaelic League, Irish Republican Brotherhood and GAA. He commanded the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers during the Easter Rising.
On the 8th May 1916, Ashe and Eamon de Valera were court-martialed and sentenced to death. Both sentences were commuted to life, and Ashe was sent to a variety of English prisons. While in prison he wrote the poem “Let Me Carry Your Cross for Ireland, Lord”.
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.
From the smouldering embers of Easter Week 1916 the death on hunger strike of Ashe produced a flame. A flame which an empire failed to extinguish, which treachery could not subdue, which today burns its way through hypocrisy and coercion – a living flame.
With many thanks to: James Connolly.