Remembering Dan Breen
Dan Breen was born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary on August 11th 1894.
His father died when Dan was six, leaving them very poor, Dan was educated locally before becoming a plasterer, and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.
Breen was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21st 1919 on the day the First Dáil met for the first time, Breen and his comrades took part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush in Tipperary.
The ambush party of eight men, led by Séamus Robinson, attacked two Royal Irish Constabulary men who were escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell were fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the 'Tan War'.
At the time the ambush was not very popular even within the ranks of the IRA some of whom tried to persuade Breen and his comrades to leave Ireland, but they refused and committed themselves to fighting against British rule in Ireland.
Martial law was imposed in Tipperary and Breen had a price on his head of £1,000 which quickly rose to £10,000. On May 13th 1919 Breen helped rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick, Breen was injured in the shootout and two RIC men were killed.
Breen and his close friend Sean Treacy now headed for Dublin where they met Michael Collins and helped his squad carry out assassinations against crown forces targets. The British were in close pursuit and surrounded their safehouse in Drumcondra in Dublin's northside. Breen and Treacy shot their way out, Breen was seriously injured and the next day Treacy was shot dead on Talbot Street in Dublin.
Breen was present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage was killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount French. The IRA hid behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles came past. They had been instructed to ignore the first car, but this contained their target, Lord French. Their roadblock failed as a policeman removed the horse and cart intended to stop the car.
Breen was married on June 12th 1921, to Brigid Malone, a Dublin Cumann na mBan woman. They had met in Dublin when she helped to nurse him while he was recovering from a bullet wound. Despite having £10,000 on his head the wedding was held at Purcell's, "Glenagat House", New Inn, County Tipperary. Many of the key members of the Third Tipperary Brigade attended, including flying column leaders Dinny Lacey and Hogan. Sean Hogan was his best man.
Breen took the Republican side during the civil war, he was arrested by Free Staters and interned at Limerick Prison. He spent two months here before going on a hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days. Breen was then released.
"I would never have handled a gun or fired a shot… to obtain this Treaty… writing on the second anniversary of Martin Savage's death, do you suppose that he sacrificed his life in attempting to kill one British Governor-General to make room for another British Governor-General?"
Breen was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency but did not take his seat. In 1924 Breen wrote a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, later republished by Rena Dardis and Anvil Press, which is deemed by many to be the best book about the Tan War.
In 1926 Breen joined the newly formed Fianna Fail and was the first anti-treaty TD to take his seat in Leinster House. But a year later he lost his seat in the general election of 1927 and emigrated to the USA, he returned to Ireland in 1932 and regained his seat in Tipperary which he held until he retired from politics in 1965.
He died in Dublin on December 27th 1969 and was buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral was the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms, Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assembled in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.
Quote by Dan Breen on killing Black and Tans - " Yes I killed them, all killing is murder to me. I make no apologies for killing, and the only thing that I was ever really sorry for was the number that escaped"