As the end of the 1916 Easter Rising becomes increasingly apparent and the rebels in Dublin are being squeezed harder and harder by the British forces, the rebels outside the city achieve a small victory on Friday, April 28, 1916, in what comes to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne.
The Battle of Ashbourne is a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and about 37 Irish Volunteers, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy. It is one of the few engagements outside of Dublin city centre and is, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one. It is also an example of the guerilla warfare that becomes a normal method of operation during the Irish War of Independence.
After the Volunteers battalion is mobilized on Easter Sunday, they are split into smaller groups, known as flying columns, and are sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission is to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycles, mostly armed with shotguns. After raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications, and collecting rifles, they reach the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne.
There they are met with a barricade that has been hastily erected by the RIC members stationed in the barracks nearby. The RIC constables quickly surrender and are sent to the barracks to order a full surrender but they do not return. The Volunteers take up positions across the road while James O’Connor and Ashe try to break in the door. The constables begin firing from the upper windows of the building and a gun battle breaks out.
The fighting intensifies as RIC reinforcements arrive from Navan, Dunboyne, and Slane. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty, are fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray is killed, the constables surrender and are taken prisoner. The Volunteers gather their arms and ammunition while Ashe warns the constables that they will be shot if they take up arms against the Irish people again.
In total, fourteen people are killed in the battle – two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Many more are injured.
The Volunteers’ victory is short lived, however, as in the early afternoon of the next day Ashe receives word of the surrender in Dublin. He demobilises the battalion and sends the men home. Many, including O’Connor, are arrested within days and interned in Wakefield Prison and Frongoch Internment Camp.
Ashe eventually spends time in jail for his role in the uprising and is jailed again in 1917. He begins a hunger strike on September 20, demanding POW status. Ashe dies after just five days on hunger strike from injuries received while being force-fed. The manner of his death outrages the Irish population.
As a side note, Thomas Ashe is a cousin of actor Gregory Peck.