Dan Breen 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 (Royal Irish Constabulary) 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). The action was unauthorised by Irish leadership at the time, but shortly after all British armed forces and policemen were deemed legitimate targets.
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 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.
Image | IRA commander Dan Breen, with his bride Brigid Malone, pictured on their wedding day, 12 June 1921, just a month before the truce that would bring an end to the Irish War of Independence. Breen would reject the treaty, and was captured by government forces while fighting with the Anti-Treaty IRA during the ensuing Civil War. He would later be elected to the Dáil, the first former member of the Anti-Treaty forces to be seated there.
Dan Breen Third Tipperary Brigade IRA talking about the Tan War 1919- 1921