Thomas Ashe Archive to be auctioned in Dublin this weekend

A major collection of Thomas Ashe’s letters from his fellow 1916 leaders, and rare photographs of the man who led the Battle of Ashbourne are to be auctioned at Whyte’s of Dublin this weekend.

Kerry man Ashe, who was teaching in Corduff, was commanding the Fingal 5th battalion of the Irish Volunteers, and took a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city.

The battalion won a major victory in Ashbourne where they engaged a much larger force capturing a significant quantity of arms and up to 20 Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers were killed during the five-and-a-half-hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapsed, Ashe's battalion surrendered on the orders of Patrick Pearse.

When he received the order to surrender he had his doubts as he had difficulty believing the rebels in Dublin had not had success as he did. He sent Richard Mulcahy to Dublin to verify its authenticity.

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 Frongoch Internment camp and Lewes Prison in England. While in prison he wrote the poem "Let Me Carry Your Cross for Ireland, Lord".

Having been released, in August 1917, Ashe was again arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he made in Ballinalee, County Longford, where Michael Collins had also been speaking. He went on the run but was captured in Dublin and detained at the Curragh but was then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

He was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including other Kerrymen Fionán Lynch and Austin Stack, demanded prisoner of war status. As this protest evolved Ashe again went on hunger strike on 20 September 1917. As this was a breach of prison discipline the authorities retaliated by taking away the prisoners' beds, bedding and boots. After five or six days lying on a cold stone floor the prisoners were subjected to forcible feeding.

On 25 September, Ashe was removed to the Mater Hospital where he died within a few hours.


The letters to be auctioned by Whytes include many to his sister Nora, from various gaols he served time in, as well as from leaders like Michael Collins, Padraig Pearse, Countess Marcievicz and Richard Mulcahy.

The collection originates with the Ashe family and includes a letter from Ernest Blythe to Ashe’s brother, John, as well as many letters from these prominent leaders of the day sympathising with the family on the death of Thomas. The 65 lots include rare photographs, a bust, and the Leo Whelan painting of Stack as a piper, which is guiding up to €3,000.

It is a collection of major significance surrounding a man who was a close confidant of all the main leaders of the Irish Rising of 1916.


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