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‘Inhuman and dangerous’: damning verdict of Thomas Ashe inquest
Detail of a colour lithographic print, featuring the original 1917 painting by Leo Whelan of Thomas Ashe, wearing a kilt, made of green material and playing the uileann pipes. Photo: National Library of Ireland, PD ASHE-TH (1) III

‘Inhuman and dangerous’: damning verdict of Thomas Ashe inquest

Dublin, 2 November 1917 - The coroner’s inquest into the death of republican Thomas Ashe has delivered a damning verdict on the conduct of Dublin Castle and the prison authorities.

Ashe died of heart failure and congestion of the lungs on 25 September after being forcibly fed while on hunger strike.

‘We censure the Castle authorities’, the verdict ran, ‘for not acting more promptly, especially when the grave condition of the deceased and other prisoners was brought under their notice…’

‘We condemn forcible or mechanical feeding as an inhuman and dangerous operation, which should be discontinued.' The inquest also found that 'the assistant doctor called in, having no previous practice in such operations, administered forcible feeding unskillfully’.

Pamphlet containing the verdict from the inquest into the death of Thomas Ashe (Image: Dublin City Library)

The verdict also describes the taking away of Ashe’s bed, bedding and boots, leaving him to lie on the cold floor for 50 hours as ‘an unfeeling and barbarous act’.

When delivered, the verdict of the coroner’s jury – arrived at unanimously – was met with clapping and cheers from the public gallery, before the police moved to suppress it. However, there has been no suppressing the wider reaction.

The Freeman’s Journal, seen as the organ of Redmond’s IPP, objected to the means adopted by Ashe to further his political aims but conceded that it was impossible not to recognise ‘the courage, sincerity, generosity and readiness for sacrifice to an ideal which the blundering malignity of Castle officialism quenched in Mountjoy prison when it extinguished the life of Thomas Ashe’.

By contrast, the unionist Irish Times has displayed little sympathy for Ashe. The prison authorities, it has editorialised, were ‘bound to enforce the prison rules’ and had Thomas Ashe obeyed them, he would be alive today.

‘The charges of deliberate malignity and cold-blooded cruelty against the Government seem to us to be wholly fantastic.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.