Soloheadbeg Ambush

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The Soloheadbeg Ambush was an ambush of a gelignite transport at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, Ireland, on 21 January 1919 in which two policemen were killed. It is considered to be the first engagement of the Irish War of Independence.[1]


In the Irish general election of December 1918, Sinn Féin won a landslide victory, gaining 73 out of 105 seats (25 of these unopposed) in the British Parliament. However, in its election manifesto the party had vowed to set up a separate government in Ireland rather than sit in the British Parliament. At a meeting in Dublin on 21 January 1919, Sinn Féin established an independent parliament called Dáil Éireann and declared independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

On that same day, an ambush was carried out by Irish Volunteers Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan, Séamus Robinson, Tadhg Crowe, Paddy McCormack, Paddy O'Dwyer, Michael Ryan and Seán O'Meara (the latter two being cycle scouts). Robinson (who participated in the Easter Rising) was the organiser and Treacy (a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood since 1911) was the logistics expert. The unit involved acted on its own initiative.


They attacked two Royal Irish Constables, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell,[2] who were guarding two workmen transporting explosive gelignite to a quarry. The two constables were shot dead almost immediately. Dan Breen said of the ambush:

...we took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces ... The only regret that we had following the ambush was that there were only two policemen in it, instead of the six we had expected...[3]


A wanted poster for Dan Breen.

This is widely regarded as the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, and the men acted on their own initiative to try to start a war.[4][5][6][7] The British government declared South Tipperary a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act two days later.[8][9]

A meeting of the Executive of the Irish Volunteers took place shortly thereafter. On 31 January, An t-Óglach (the official publication of the Irish Volunteers) stated that the formation of Dáil Éireann "justifies Irish Volunteers in treating the armed forces of the enemy – whether soldiers or policemen – exactly as a National Army would treat the members of an invading army".[10]

A monument was erected at the site of the ambush, and each year a ceremony of remembrance is held there.

Footnotes and References[edit]

  1. ^ English, Richard (1998), Ernie O'Malley: IRA Intellectual, Oxford: Oxford University Press 
  2. ^ Abbott, Richard (2000). Police casualties in Ireland, 1919-1922. Mercier. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-85635-314-4. Retrieved 01-11-2011. 
  3. ^ History Ireland, May 2007, p.56.
  4. ^ Irish Freedom by Richard English (ISBN 978-0-330-42759-3), page 287
  5. ^ The Irish War of Independence by Michael Hopkinson (ISBN 978-0773528406), page 115
  6. ^ A Military History of Ireland by Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery (ISBN 978-0521629898), page 407
  7. ^ Michael Collins: A Life by James Mackay (ISBN 1-85158-857-4), page 106
  8. ^ Sean Treacy and the 3rd. Tipperary Brigade by Desmond Ryan (1945), page 74
  9. ^ Police Casualties in Ireland, 1919-1922 by Richard Abbott (ISBN 978-1856353144), page 49
  10. ^ [1]


  • Richard Abbot’s “Police Casualties in Ireland (1919-1922)” (Pages 30–32) (ISBN 1856353141)