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Photographs of the funeral of Thomas Ashe by Elsie Mahaffy

TCD MS 2074 f182r

Funerals of patriots have often proved to be pivotal moments in Irish history. The funeral of Thomas Ashe (1885-1917) is a particularly poignant case. In life he was a popular and cultured school teacher, a founding member of the Irish Volunteers  and leader of the 1916 Rising in Ashbourne, Co Meath. In death he came to epitomise the struggle and suffering of his generation for Ireland’s cause. He died aged 32 on 25 September 1917 in the Mater Hospital after incarceration in Mountjoy Prison, a hunger strike and botched force feeding. The tragic brutality of his death, coming after the protracted executions of the other 1916 leaders the year before, resulted in an upsurge of support for the republican movement.

TCD MS 2074 f182r
TCD MS 2074 f182r

The funeral on 30 September 1917 therefore presented an opportunity for a pageant of political propaganda along the lines of the funerals of O’Donovan Rossa and Parnell. It also provided a significant challenge for the Volunteers and other republican forces who had lost men and arms and were struggling for cohesive leadership. However, the opportunity was defiantly seized and a large funeral procession to Glasnevin cemetery was planned involving various republican forces along with the Dublin Fire Brigade and around 30,000 members of the public who had travelled from across Ireland to line the streets. City Hall was also seized from British forces for the lying in state. The graveside oration was delivered by the young Michael Collins who, after a volley of shots, took inspiration from Pearse’s oration at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa  and proclaimed ‘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’. A statement of intent for the years to follow.

One unlikely observer from the side-lines was Elsie Mahaffy, the daughter of Trinity College provost John Pentland Mahaffy, who kept a careful record of the 1916 Rising and aftermath, in a scrapbook which includes diary entries, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, photographs, postcards and other collected memorabilia.

TCD MS 2074 f179r

Whilst holding firmly to her unionist point of view (describing his death as ‘suicide’, and the procession as being ‘attended by thousands of armed rebels’) Elsie was clearly mesmerised by the press coverage of Ashe’s death and funeral. The type and amount of material she collected on the funeral in particular displays an awareness of this as a key event in the evolution of contemporary Irish politics. The most remarkable items are three photographs of the cortege and procession, which indicate that Elsie was sufficiently fascinated to join the crowds herself and to take the images as the procession passed her. We would welcome any further information on the location or participants in any of these photos.

The scrapbook also includes newspaper clippings detailing the funeral arrangements and order of procession, as well as numerous  clippings from after the event. In addition Mahaffy has also pasted in a memorial card and a copy of ‘Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord’ the poem written by Ashe in Lewes jail. She devotes a number of pages to a description of the circumstances of his death, the government reaction, his lying in state in City Hall, and the ‘huge funeral’.

TCD MS 2074 f179a

Whilst captivated by the tragic story and unfolding public reaction, we cannot know if this had any effect on her politics. However, she may have held the same view as General Sir Bryan Mahon, then head of British forces in Ireland, who commented that republican forces were now ‘exhibiting discipline to a degree which is perhaps the most dangerous sign of the times.’

A fuller account of Elsie Mahaffy’s scrapbook, written by Lucy McDiarmid, can be found on the Library’s 1916 digital resource ‘Changed Utterly’. The scrapbook has been digitised in its entirety and is available on the Library’s Digital Collections site.

Estelle Gittins


Mahaffy and Music


John Pentland Mahaffy is renowned as one of the more colourful characters in the history of Trinity College Dublin. A classicist who ended his career as Provost (1914-1919), his interest in music is less well known but had considerable beneficial impact on the development of the Library’s music collections.

Gall V 9 40

When Sir Robert Prescott Stewart died in 1894 it was Mahaffy who proposed to the Board that Ebenezer Prout should succeed him as Professor of Music, submitting several of Prout’s books on music theory as testimonials. Prout held the post until his death in December 1909, and in his will stipulated that Trinity College should be given the option of purchasing his extensive music library “at a reasonable price”. Prout had valued the collection at £1000, but Mahaffy on behalf of the College agreed to buy it for half that amount. He raised over £300 from friends for the purpose, and the Board supplied the remainder. The Bursar paid a further £60 out of College funds for a new bookcase to house the collection: this was placed down the centre of the Long Room where it remained until the 1960s, when the collection was transferred to the Berkeley Library basement and the bookcase was removed to the basement of Townley Hall.

Prout M 45

This was Mahaffy’s most important contribution to the Library’s music holdings, but it was not the first. In June 1903 he had paid 30 shillings for the manuscript of ‘Caractacus’ by the Earl of Mornington, written in 1764, the year of Mornington’s appointment as the first Professor of Music. The manuscript is currently on display in the ‘In Tune’ exhibition.

Mahaffy may also have had a hand in the deposit of James Goodman’s collection of folk tunes in 1897. When the Irish folk music scholar Donal O’Sullivan attempted to consult the Goodman collection in the 1940s he discovered that the terms of the deposit stipulated that the volumes could only be seen in the presence of Professor Mahaffy. As Mahaffy had died in 1919, it was found necessary to make contact with Goodman’s grandson, who formally presented the manuscripts to the College in September 1944.

In Tune, sponsored by KBC Bank, runs until April 2014.The exhibition is also available online.Full details of the accompanying lecture series are available here.

Roy Stanley

Music Librarian

You can listen to an interview with Roy Stanley about the In Tune exhibition on the Arena show on RTE Radio 1 14 January 2014. The interview begins at 23.30.