1917: Preparations for IRA Convention
By Aengus Ó Snodaigh
(Pic: Thomas Ashe, or his funeral, or Michael Collins)
Following the successful East Clare by-election campaign and in preparation for the IRA Convention of 1917, there was no abatement in the recruiting, parading and the reorganisation of the army. The police reacted by arresting three Clare brother Paddy, Michael and Austin Brennan and Peadar O'Loughlin in Clare for sedition and parading. The four refused to recognise the court in Cork. They later went on hunger-strike, though they kept their protest quiet for the first week, for fear of being force-fed. When transferred from Cork Jail to Mountjoy, the IRA authorities ordered them off the hunger strike, advising that being too few in number, the strike would not be effective. Three others arrested around that time soon joined the Claremen in Mountjoy Jail. They were Thomas Ashe, Austin Stack and Fionán Lynch. Michael Collins was also arrested at this time but was remanded on bail, which was forfeited later.
In September, when the POWs were numerous enough, another hunger strike was started for recognition of their political status. The prisoners wrecked the jail, but the hunger strike ended tragically with the death of Thomas Ashe, as a result of force-feeding, on the fourth day of his protest.
Ashe had been Officer Commanding Dublin's Second Battalion during 1916 and was responsible for the successful attack on Ashbourne Barracks that week. A significant point of his death, often overlooked by historians, was that he was the President of the Irish Republic as declared in 1916 when he died, by virtue of his position as President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
The findings of the coroner's court on 2 November 1917 against the authorities, condemning force-feeding as an inhuman and dangerous operation, also added to the increasing opposition to the British authorities in Ireland.
The death of Thomas Ashe and the subsequent funeral procession became a rallying call to the standard of the Irish Republic. Though not on the scale of O'Donovan Rossa's funeral two years previous, the military aspect of the funeral proved that the Irish Volunteers were well on their way to being restored to pre-1916 levels. Thomas Ashe's remains lay in state in Dublin's City Hall before a funeral procession of over 30,000 marched to Glasnevin Cemetery on 30 September 1917. Uniformed Volunteers led the procession with other Volunteers in uniform and with rifles reversed marching with the hearse, followed by an officer with sword drawn. They were in turn followed by cars carrying Dublin Lord Mayor Laurence O'Neill and the Archbishop of Dublin. Marching with the mourners were representatives of the IRB under the pseudonym of the Wolfe Tone Memorial Committee, as well as representatives of the GAA, the Dublin Fire Brigade. Constance Markievicz attended in Citizen Army uniform.
Michael Collins gave the oration following the firing of a volley by uniformed Irish Volunteers. His oration was possibly the shortest republican funeral oration ever: ``Nothing additional remains to be said. That volley which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian.''
Michael Collins' leading role at the funeral would have been one of the first times that he came to public prominence.
The Convention to establish a National Executive for the Irish Volunteers met on Saturday 27 October 1917, the day immediately following the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (see An Phoblacht 6 April 2000). The venue was the hall immediately inside the northwest entrance near Clonliffe Road at the Cumann Luthchleas Gael (GAA) headquarters at Jones' Road on Dublin's northside. Elaborate security precautions were in place by the Dublin Brigade in the grounds and in the immediate neighbourhood, but their expertise was not called upon during the day.