Thomas Patrick Ashe, a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, is born in Lispole, County Kerry, on January 12, 1885. Ashe enters De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 and begins a teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk, County Dublin, in 1908.
Ashe plays a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city commanding the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers. Ashe is commandant of the 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade, a force of 60–70 men engaging British forces around north County Dublin during the rising. They are armed only with a few rounds, about a dozen service rifles, a dozen Mausers, and a dozen Martini carbines. Some of Ashe’s men are armed only with a shotgun against the well-equipped army regulars.
Ashe’s battalion wins a major victory in Ashbourne, County Meath, where they engage a much larger force. They capture a significant quantity of arms and up to twenty Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers are killed during the 5-1/2 hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapses, Ashe’s battalion surrenders on the orders of Patrick Pearse. On May 8, 1916, Ashe and Éamon de Valera are court-martialled and sentenced to death. The sentences are commuted to penal servitude for life. Ashe is imprisoned in Lewes Prison in Lewes, East Sussex, England.
De Valera, Ashe, and Thomas Hunter lead a prisoner hunger strike on May 28, 1917. With accounts of prison mistreatment appearing in the Irish press and mounting protests in Ireland, Ashe and the remaining prisoners are freed on June 18, 1917 by David Lloyd George as part of a general amnesty.
Upon his release, Ashe returns to Ireland and begins a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, Ashe is arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he makes in Ballinalee, County Longford, where Michael Collins is also speaking. He is detained at the Curragh but is then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. He is convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including Austin Stack, demand prisoner of war status. On September 20, 1917, Ashe again goes on hunger strike. He dies at the Mater Hospital on September 25, 1917, after being force fed by prison authorities. At the inquest into his death, the jury condemns the staff at the prison for the “inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct.” His body lies in state at Dublin City Hall, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.
Ashe is a relative of Catherine Ashe, the paternal grandmother of American actor Gregory Peck, who emigrates to the United States in the 19th century. The Ashe Memorial Hall built in 1928, housing the Kerry County Museum, in Tralee is named after him while Nelson Street, also in Tralee, is renamed Ashe Street.