Freedom

The men released from British prisons arrived back in Ireland on 19Th June 1917. After spending a short time in Dublin, Ashe and his comrades Austin Stack and Timothy Brosnan set out for home, arriving in Tralee on 20Th June to tumultuous welcome. Ashe spent the night in Tralee and the next day accompanied by Austin Stack he returned home to Kinard to an enthusiastic reception.

It was not long before Ashe threw himself back into action.  By this time he had already succeeded Pádraig Pearse as President of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  Upon their release the prisoners, representative of Commandants who fought in 1916, sent a letter to the President of the United States;

Dublin, Ireland
June 18, 1917.
Gentlemen,
‘We, the undersigned have just had the opportunity of seeing the printed text of the message of the United States of America to the Provisional Government of Russia.  We see that the President accepts as the main aim of both countries, ‘the carrying of the present struggle for the freedom of all peoples to a successful consummation’ ….what the governments and people of other nations, will, we trust, regard as even more sacred, the right of each people to defend itself against external aggression, external interference and external control.  It is this particular right that we claim for the Irish people, and not content with statements of principle, though these themselves may be made a pretext for our oppression, we are engaged and mean to engage ourselves in practical means for establishing this right….’

His stay at home was brief – two days in all. While at home he received  a call to assist in the by-election campaign in Clare on behalf of De Valera. He left on 23Rd June never to see his home again.

Ashe spent a fortnight canvassing in East Clare. The campaign was successful as De Valera won, polling more than double his opponent’s votes.

Because Ashe was one of two surviving commandants of the Easter Rising there was constant demand on his time to address meetings throughout the country organised by Sinn Féin and the Gaelic League. Operating at a hectic pace, he travelled widely to meetings in Dublin and Fingal, to Kilmallock and Bruree in Limerick, to the Oireachtas in Waterford and to Longford.

It was at a meeting in Ballinalee, Co. Longford, that he made a speech which was considered by the authorities to be a cause of disaffection among the civilian population. It was because of this speech that a warrant was issued for his arrest.

However, Ashe continued his campaign in his country’s cause. He spoke at an aeriocht in Donabate on Sunday, July 29Th and then returned to Kerry on his final visit to deliver the oration in memory of Roger Casement who had been hanged on August 3Rd, 1916. This commemoration took place at Ardfert on Sunday, August 5Th.

Addressing the events of Easter Week 1916, he struck a defiant chord:

‘Our opponents tell us we were criminal idealists.  You can see that the men of Easter Week were the most practical Nationalists that ever lived in Ireland for the last 100 years.  There was no dreaming about them or idealism but the dreams and ideals of absolute Irish liberty, and they worked for it and placed it on a foundation that it will never again be taken down from.  I had the pleasure during Easter Week – of receiving a despatch from Jim Connolly, who commanded in Dublin.  His despatch said, amongst other things; “the Republican Flag flies triumphantly over Dublin City. There will be glorious days for Ireland yet.”  Will you mark these words my friends? Will you mark the words of Connolly; take them to your heart and think of the mind of the man who saw clearly from behind the barricades of Dublin streets that there would be glorious days for Ireland yet.’ 

Ashe was aware for some time now that the authorities were seeking an opportunity to silence and capture him so after the commemoration ceremony he went “on the run” returning to Dublin to the safety of Batt Connor’s house in Donnybrook.

On Saturday, August 18Th, he went into the city centre to attend to some business. While waiting for the Donnybrook tram in the company of a friend Michéal Ó Foghlú he was arrested by two plain clothes detectives who happened to recognise him. Thus ended two months of freedom. Ashe was taken to Chancery Place Bridewell, and to Keane Barracks, Curragh Camp, the following day. He would have to face courtmartial once more.

Thomas Ashe in 1917 (Rare photo)

Thomas Ashe in 1917 (Rare photo)