1917 - Thomas Ashe

Ashe was born in 1885 at Lispole near Dingle, the fourth in a family of ten, and was encouraged in sporting and cultural pursuits by his scholarly father Gregory. By the time of his early 20’s he had qualified as a national teacher and after briefly working locally he secured a post at Corduff near Lusk, County Dublin, and was in situ there as school principal on the eve of the 1916 Rising. During his teaching career nationalistic themes in his classes had raised eyebrows with school inspectors. He had also risen in the of ranks of the IRB and was highly regarded by senior figures there, including Sean MacDiarmada, Eamon Ceannt and Diarmuid Lynch.

Not surprisingly the carnage at Ashbourne police station earned Ashe the death sentence at his trial after the Rising but this was commuted to life imprisonment and he may have been fortunate to be one of the last to be tried when there was a growing feeling that there had been more than enough executions.

In various English prisons Ashe formed a close friendship with Michael Collins through whom he was well briefed on events in Ireland. He was one of the foremost advocates of the running of prisoners for election and helped to persuade a reluctant Joe McGuinness to stand in Longford.

Upon release under the general amnesty in June he became heavily involved in the by–election in Clare where many thought that Ashe himself rather than DeValera should be the candidate. By now he had also become president of the supreme council of the IRB and had acquired a reputation for fiery speeches at rallies. In August one of those speeches earned him that trip to Mountjoy Jail from which he would never return.

As 1917 came to a close original members of SF were but a minority as the organisation grew exponentially, with an escalation in defections to it from the Nationalists, and at a specially held conference at the Mansion House, Dublin in October Arthur Griffith willingly stood aside as president in favour of Eamon DeValera with Count Plunkett as his deputy. Griffith continued to be an important figure in SF and, while the aim of complete independence from Britain was stronger than what he had advocated his tactic of setting up an assembly of elected members as opposed to taking their seats at Westminster was wholly embraced by the party. Griffith had first promulgated that tactic in his classic work from 1905 “The Resurrection of Hungary”. Though the story of how Sinn Féin evolved after 1917 is a complicated one, with disputes over use of the name sometimes resulting in violent conflict, the modern Sinn Féin still does not take its seats at Westminster.

1917 - Thomas Ashe