Hunger striker denied a bed, bedding and even his boots, dies from forced feeding

Thomas Ashe, portrait c. 1915 (National Library of Ireland via Flickr) and the Thomas Ashe Memorial at Cavan, Ireland (Eric Jones – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Geograph)

25 September 1917

Thomas Ashe was a prominent Irish Republican, who had taken part in Ireland’s 2016 Easter Rebellion against British rule. He died, aged 32, on Tuesday 25 September 1917, just five days into a hunger strike at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison, due to a complication from forced feeding. At the subsequent coroner’s inquest, it was revealed, that despite the near freezing conditions in his cell, the authorities had confiscated his boots, bed and bedding, as they regarded a hunger strike as a brazen breach of regulations. Ashe had been demanding prisoner of war status. As he was dragged from his cell to be forcibly fed, another Republican prisoner called out ‘Stick it, Lynch,’ and Ashe called back ‘I’ll stick it, Fin.’ Shortly afterwards, he was carried unconscious to the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, close to the prison, where he died five hours later.

On the previous Saturday, the Lord Mayor of Dublin had insisted on visiting all the Sinn Fein prisoners and, when Ashe’s cell door was opened, he had seen him lying on bare boards, without furniture of any kind or even any boots on his feet. Ashe had explained that his only demand was that ‘they were not criminals, and that they were not very particular as to how they were treated as long as they were not treated as criminals.’1 On a second visit on Monday, Ashe had complained about the forced feeding, telling the Mayor that ‘they have been putting me through the revolting operation of forced feeding and an outside doctor has told me that my throat is so weak and delicate, that if they persist in feeding me as they did this morning the end will be fatal.’ The Lord Mayor tried to persuade the prisoner to take food but Ashe was adamant. ‘They have branded me as a criminal, and even if I do die I will die in a good cause.’2 When Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Myles, an expert medical witness was asked at the inquest, ‘Do you think the fact of the bed and bedclothes being taken away from him, and leaving him in the cell for two days without his boots, practically without sleep, and two days suffering from cold, do you think that had anything to do with the cardiac failure ?’ – his reply came in one word ‘Undoubtedly.’3

FOOTNOTES

  1. ‘The Death of Thomas Ashe,’ The Kerry Evening Post, 29 September 1917 p. 3.
  2. Ibid., p. 3.
  3. ‘Ashe Inquest Resumed,’ The Dublin Daily Express, 29 September 1917, p. 7.

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© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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