One of the most famous fighters in the fight for Irish freedom, Dan Breen is born in Co Tipperary. He was an iconic IRA figure in both the War of Independence and also the Civil War.
Breen was involved in what is accepted as the first action of the War of Independence 1919-1921 when with Sean Treacy and others, he ambushed and killed two RIC constables James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, both of them Catholic and reputedly popular in the community in what has become known as the Soloheadbeg Ambush (Co Tipperary.)
In his memoir, My Fight for Irish Freedom Breen outlines what happened at the ambush:
‘Hands up!’ The cry came from our men who spoke as if with one voice. ‘Hands up!’ In answer to our challenge they raised their rifles, and with military precision held them at the ready. They were Irishmen, too, and would die rather than surrender. We renewed the demand for surrender. We would have preferred to avoid bloodshed; but they were inflexible. Further appeal was useless. It was a matter of our lives or theirs. We took aim. The two policemen fell, mortally wounded.”
The action was unauthorized by Irish leadership, but shortly after all, British armed forces and policemen were deemed legitimate targets.
The British government offered a reward £1,000 for Breen and later raised it to £10,000. Breen writes “Nobody ever tried to earn it with the exception of a few members of the RIC. They failed; many of them never made the second attempt.”
Breen was seriously wounded on a number of occasions during the conflict. Following the Irish Civil War where he fought on the Anti-Treaty side, he was elected to Dáil Éireann in Jan 1927, lost his seat later that year, but went on to represent Tipperary from 1932 through 1965.
My Fight for Irish Freedom is an interesting memoir about the escapades of a man who like many of his compatriots could often be chillingly brutal in a brutal war. The following interview shows the mindset of the IRA during the War of Independence.