Decade of Centenaries and Dictionary of Irish Biography are collaborating on showcasing women of the early twentieth century who strove for Irish Independence; for female suffrage; to improve the lives of women in poverty; and to improve the standard of care for children. These women worked hard throughout their lives to improve the lives of others, but they have not always been accorded their due recognition.
Hopefully this series will bring their deeds to a new and wider audience.
First in the series is Nora Ashe.
Nora Ashe’s entry is reproduced here with kind permission from the Dictionary of Irish Biography.
Ashe, Nora (Honora)
by Frances Clarke
Ashe, Nora (Honora) (1882–1970), teacher, nationalist, and Irish language enthusiast, was born 15 July 1882 in Kinard, Lispole, Co. Kerry, the third daughter in the family of ten of Gregory Ashe, a farmer, and Ellen (née Hanafin), of Tobar, Co. Kerry. Both her parents were native Irish speakers and, though English was the dominant language in the Ashe home, she was always bilingual. Her father was a significant influence, and provided his children with an interest in Irish music, literature and history. Educated by the Loreto sisters in Killarney, she taught at the Mercy convent in Kilrush before attending Carysfort College, where she was taught by Eamon de Valera, with whom she often conversed in Irish. Upon receiving her teaching qualification, she taught in Cappamore, Co. Limerick.
She was in Cappamore during the 1916 rising, in which her brother Thomas Ashe played a significant part. She was very close to Thomas and through him became well acquainted with Michael Collins, Sean O’Casey, Seán Mac Diarmada and Austin Stack. During Thomas’s imprisonment after the rising, in Ireland and subsequently in England, she visited and corresponded with him and several of his colleagues; it was through her that he kept in contact with his many friends in Ireland. When she visited him in Lewes prison, she brought messages from Collins; she also met Stack and other penal servitude convicts. She accompanied Thomas on his return to Kerry, on his release in June 1917. When he was imprisoned in Mountjoy in the late summer of 1917 she again visited. She wrote of his death on hunger strike on 25 September that ‘it was the last thing we expected to hear’ (BMH, WS 645). She was the first family member to arrive at the Mater hospital, and was involved in the arrangements for his funeral demonstration in Dublin (the family initially wanted to take the body to Kerry).
Ashe moved to Dublin, where she worked in the Central Model School in Marlborough Street. She was later appointed principal of Scoil Mhuire, and she held this post until her retirement. She played an active role in the foundation of the Fianna Fáil party in 1926, and in its early years she was a member of its national executive. Her involvement with Conradh na Gaeilge lasted many years; she regularly attended their ard fheiseanna, and was a trustee of Choiste Gnótha (1923–41). In 1934 she assisted in the foundation of the School Dramatic Society, and was a member of its original committee. She did much to keep the memory of her brother alive and was an important source of information on his life. She died 20 January 1970 in Dublin, and was buried in Straffan, Co. Kildare. Family photographs are held at the Kerry county library and some correspondence is in the NLI.
BMH, WS 645; Seán Ó Lúing, I die in a good cause: a study of Thomas Ashe, idealist and revolutionary (1970); Irish Press, 21 Jan. 1970; Ir. Times, 21 Jan. 1970; Beathaisnéis, 1882–1992, iv
For more details on the work of the DIB see: https://www.ria.ie/research-projects/dictionary-irish-biography
Letter from Seán O’Casey commiserating on the death of Thomas Ashe http://letters1916.maynoothuniversity.ie/item/6630
Witness statement made by Nora Ashe to the Bureau of Military History.
Some reading on the history of education in Ireland:
Mangione, Thomas. ‘The Establishment of the Model School System in Ireland, 1834-1854’, New Hibernia Review/Irish Éireannach Nua, 7:4 (2003), pp 103-22.
Walsh, Tom. ‘The National System of Education, 1831-2000’ in Essays in the History of Irish Education, ed. Brendan Walsh (London, 2016), pp 7-43.