Remembering Seán Treacy
Sean Treacy was born in Soloheadbeg in west Tipperary on February 14th 1895 into a farming background, he left school at 14 to work on a farm, locally he was seen as a promising hard-working farmer who was eager to try out new methods of farming.
Treacy was also very patriotic, he joined the Gaelic League, the volunteers and the IRB. Treacy did not take part in the Easter rising of 1916 but was arrested in its aftermath and spent most of the next two years in Gaol.
Upon his release in 1918, Treacy was appointed the Vice Officer-Commanding of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Republican Army.
Treacy hatched a plan to ambush the RIC & take the gelignite they were transporting near his home in Soloheadbeg, Treacy briefed his OC who agreed to the plan, but without getting the authorisation from GHQ.
On January 21st 1919 as the first Dail met for the first time in the Mansion House, Dublin, Treacy and eight other volunteers ambushed and killed two RIC men at Soloheadbeg, this action sparked the Tan war.
The attack was very unpopular in Ireland at the time and even some in the IRA & Sinn Fein disagreed with it as it wasn't sanctioned by GHQ, there has been a debate in Ireland ever since in regards to whether they intended to kill the RIC men or not.
Treacy and his comrades were encouraged by some to flee to America, but they refused and vowed to fight on in Ireland. The crown forces were now determined to apprehend those responsible for the attack and imposed martial law in south Tipperary and declared a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act.
One of the IRA unit, Sean Hogan who was 17 at the time, was arrested on May 12th 1919. Treacy organised a rescue mission as Hogan was been transported to Cork City by train.
Treacy and some volunteers from Tipperary and Limerick boarded the train in Knocklong and a gunfight ensued. Treacy and his good friend Dan Breen were seriously injured and two RIC men were shot dead.
Hogan was rescued and rushed to the village of Knocklong, where a butcher's wife slammed down the shutters to hide them and her husband cut off his handcuffs using a cleaver.
Treacy now went to Dublin and joined the "Squad" led by Michael Collins to assassinate British intelligence officers. In the summer of 1920 he returned to Tipperary and organised attacks on RIC barracks, notably at Ballagh, Clerihan and Drangan before again moving his base of operations back to Dublin.
After most of their special branch had been assassinated by the "Squad", Dublin Castle brought in new intelligence officers from all over the Empire and set up a new Combined Intelligence Service (CIS) for Ireland, which worked with other intelligence agencies. These intelligence officers had orders to track down IRA operatives and leaders of SF including Treacy & Breen.
With help from police inspectors brought up to Dublin from Tipperary, the CIS spotted Treacy and Breen after their arrival in Dublin and placed them under surveillance.
Treacy and Breen were holed up in a safehouse – Fernside – at Drumcondra, in north Dublin when it was raided by a police unit on October 11th. In the ensuing shootout, two senior British officers were wounded and died the next day, Major Smyth and Captain White, while Breen was seriously wounded and the homeowner, Dr. Carolan, was killed.
Treacy and Breen managed to escape through a window and shot their way through the police cordon. Treacy now planned to return to Tipperary and purchased a bike so he could cycle back to Tipperary using the back roads.
Before he was due to return to Tipperary, Treacy had one last mission in Dublin, on October 14th Collins planned to assassinate leading crown forces figures at the funeral of the RIC men killed in the shootout in Drumcondra.
Four or five members of the Squad assembled at a Dublin safe house, the Republican Outfitters shop at 94 Talbot Street early on October 14t in preparation for this operation. Treacy was to join them for his own protection, but arrived late, to discover that Collins had cancelled the attack.
Treacy lingered behind in the safe-house. But a British Secret Service surveillance team led by Major Carew and Lt. Gilbert Price had followed Treacy in the hope that he would lead them to Collins or to other high-value IRA targets. Seeing Treacy enter the premises, they set up a stake-out of the building and decided to apprehend him when he left the building.
When Treacy stepped out, Price drew his pistol and closed in on Treacy. Treacy drew his parabellum automatic pistol and shot Price and another British agent before he was hit in the head, dying instantly.
The entire confrontation had been witnessed by a 15-year-old trainee Dublin newspaper reporter John J Horgan, who captured a photo of Price the instant he had been hit. The British soldiers immediately destroyed the Republican Outfitters, riddling the shop with bullets and throwing Mills Bombs inside to wreck it.
Sean Treacy's coffin arrived by train at Limerick Junction station and was accompanied to St Nicholas Church, Solohead by an immense crowd of Tipperary people. He was buried at Kilfeacle graveyard, where, despite a large presence of British military personnel, a volley of shots was fired over the grave.
In Thurles, Co.Tipperary there is an avenue named after him – Seán Treacy Avenue. The town of Tipperary is also home to the Seán Treacy Memorial Swimming Pool which contains many relics of the Easter Rising and IRA, as well as a copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The song “Seán Treacy”, also called Tipperary so Far Away is about Treacy’s death and is still sung with pride in West Tipperary.
The Seán Treacy GAA Club takes represents the parish of Hollyford, Kilcommon and Rearcross in the Slieve Felim Hillshich, which straddle the borderland between the historical North and South Ridings of Tipperary.
Talbot Street in Dublin's city centre is a street I've walked down on many occasions over the years, there is a commemorative plaque over the door where he died, and every time I see it, it reminds me of the sacrifice this great man made for Irish freedom.