3rd Tipperary Brigade

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Seán Hogan's (No.2) Flying Column, 3rd Tipperary Brigade, during the Irish War of Independence.

The 3rd Tipperary Brigade was one of the most active during the War of Independence. The 3rd Tipperary Brigade was one of approximately 80 such units that constituted the Irish Republican Army since the time of their formation from the Irish Volunteers, until after the Civil War. The Brigade was based in southern Tipperary and conducted its activities mainly in mid-Munster.

In December 1918 and January 1919, in a tin hut on a dairy farm in Greenane Tipperary, members of the brigade planned what was to be the first act of the Irish War of Independence, the Soloheadbeg Ambush. In the early part of the war, four members of the brigade were the most wanted and feared men in Ireland. The 'Big Four', as they were referred to in Ireland in 1919, were Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Séamus Robinson and Seán Hogan. Raids, ambushes and ongoing military activities by the Brigade Battalions and Flying Columns, made South Tipperary ungovernable in 1920 and 1921. With the RIC confined to what barracks remained occupied and the British army only venturing out in large convoys.


The period between the Easter Rising of 1916 and the start of the Irish War of Independence in January 1921, was one of growing tensions between the nationalist element of the Irish population and those in authority, particularly the RIC and British authorities. These tensions were set against the backdrop of increased membership of nationalist volunteer organizations across the country and meetings and open drilling of volunteer companies coupled with the jailing of a large number of political prisoners, raids on houses of political activists by the RIC and incidents such as the death of hunger striker Thomas Ashe.[1] 1918 saw the political stakes raised with the Military Service Bill coming into effect making conscription in Ireland legal and the proclamation issued banning nationalist organizations such as Sinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers, the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan.The response to these measures was a significant upswing in anti British sentiment, emphasized by the overwhelming victory by Sinn Fein in the 1918 General Election and the anti-conscription rallies.[2] While some in the nationalist movement were satisfied with political victories there was an element that argued that the only way Ireland would ever obtain freedom was through a military confrontation with the British and particularly those who served British interests in Ireland.

Sean Treacy circa 1919

By 1917 in South Tipperary, the volunteers were being formed into companies with regular drilling and instructions on the use of firearms. Raids for arms were undertaken during 1917 and 1918 as the volunteer companies were arming themselves in the anticipation of future conflict.[3] Sean Treacy was the driving force behind a lot of this activity and he regularly visited the local companies often accompanied by Dan Breen. The visit of De Valera to Tipperary Town in August 1917 generated great interest and enthusiasm. Treacy was Eamon De Valera's body guard when he came to Tipperary in 1917 to speak at political rallies. Treacy was arrested a short time later and sentenced to 6 months jail.[4] The jails were full of activists who were arrested for drilling, singing banned nationalistic songs, parading in uniform etc and they became a school for revolutionaries with men from all over Ireland discussing the plight of their country and what needed to be done to progress their cause. In the 1918 General Election, Sinn Fein candidates were overwhelmingly returned in County Tipperary. The relationship between the RIC and the volunteers was increasingly hostile with clashes at political rallies or while the volunteers were drilling. Seamus Robinson, a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising, arrived in Tipperary in 1917 at the request of Eamon Ui Dubhir who he had met while they were both imprisoned.[5] Eamon Ui Dubhir and Maurice Crowe along with Treacy, Breen and Robinson were prominent in leading the activity of the volunteers in South Tipperary in 1917 and 1918.


The Third Tipperary Brigade, also known as the South Tipperary Brigade, was established in 1918. In October 1918 a Brigade meeting was held to elect officers, at PJ Moloney's house in Church street Tipperary Town, Richard Mulchahy from GHQ presided over the meeting.[6] Seamus Robinson was elected O/C (in absentia as he was imprisoned at the time and didn't rejoin the Brigade until late December), Seán Treacy vice O/C, Dan Breen Quarter Master and Maurice Crowe Adjuntant. The Brigade originally had 6 Battalions with this later being extended to 8. These were Rosegreen, Cashel, Dundrum, Tipperary, Clonmel, Cahir, Drangan and Carrick-on-Suir.[7]

After Sean Treacy was released from Dundalk prison in mid 1918, Treacy and Breen along with Sean Hogan set up their headquarters in the 'Tin Hut' in Greenane. Here they tested explosives and planned activities. The 'Tin Hut' was a frequent haunt for many who would later play an important in the Brigade's activities in the war, including Maurice Crowe, Dinny Lacey, Tadhg Crowe and Patrick O'Dwyer.[8]

War of Independence[edit]

Reward poster for Breen following imposition of martial law
Dinny Lacey, commander of the No. 1 Flying Column

The 3rd Tipperary Brigade was one of the most active during the War of Independence. The ambush led by Treacy, Robinson, Breen and Hogan at Soloheadbeg is generally acknowledged as the opening engagement of that war. Two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, James McDonnell and Patrick O'Connell were killed in the attack. Breen has left apparently conflicting accounts of their intentions that day. One implies that the purpose of the confrontation was merely to capture explosives and detonators being escorted to a nearby quarry.[9] The other, that the group intended killing the police escort to provoke a military response.

"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."[10]

As a result of the action, martial law was declared in County Tipperary. Treacy, Breen and Hogan took the cart and hid the explosives and immediately 'went on the run'. The met up again with Robinson a few weeks later and the "big four" as they were locally called, remained in hiding over the coming months, moving from house to house of sympathisers or sleeping in the rough in the countryside. Treacy and Robinson traveled to Dublin and met with Michael Collins who offered to arrange for them and Breen and Hogan to escape to America. They rejected the offer and told Collins they would remain in Ireland and continue the fight. Hogan was captured by the RIC in May 1919, his capture would lead to one of the dramatic events of the war. Treacy, Breen and Robinson supported by men from the East Limerick Brigade rescued a handcuffed Hogan from a train under the guard of four RIC officers at Knocklong station in Limerick. Hogan would have almost certainly been executed if he wasn't rescued. Two of the RIC were killed in the fight and Breen and Treacy seriously injured.

Treacy, Hogan, Robinson and Breen relocated to Dublin and undertook a range of missions under the direction of the Dublin leadership, some of these missions were in association with a unit known as The Squad. Robinson initially and Hogan later returned to Tipperary to continue the fight against the British and the RIC in Tipperary and surrounding counties. Treacy was eventually killed in an exchange of fire with a British secret service agent in Talbot Street, while Breen alternated between Tipperary and Dublin as the conflict continued.

Aside from the RIC hunt for 'the big four' the remainder of 1919 was reasonably quiet in South Tipperary. This changed in early to mid 1920 as the battalions of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade mounted a series of raids on RIC barracks, including attacks on the barracks at Hollyford, Drangan,Cappawhite, Rear Cross and Clerihan.[11]

Robinson continued to command the brigade through the rest of the war of independence. In September 1920 he appointed Dinny Lacey as O/C of the brigade's first flying column and later that year a second flying column was established with Seán Hogan as O/C.[12]

Civil War[edit]

Dan Breen's appeal to free state troops

Reservations about the Treaty caused division within the Brigade. Some members sided with the Provisional Government, (later the Irish Free State), while others remained neutral during the ensuing Civil War. The majority, including Brigade Officers Séamus Robinson, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan and Dinny Lacey, took the Republican side. Lacey was killed in action against Free State troops in 1923 in the Glen of Aherlow while Robinson was a General throughout the civil war, Breen and Hogan were both interned by the Free State army during the Civil War.

Third Tipperary Brigade Commemorations[edit]

Three of the four historical figures in the popular Irish republican song The Galtee Mountain Boy were members of the Third Tipperary Brigade, Flying Column leaders Dinny Lacey & Seán Hogan as well as the Brigade's Quartermaster Dan Breen.

On-line sources[edit]

Tipperary Historical Society : The Third Tipperary Brigade a Photographic Record - Neil Sharkey 1994
Bureau of Irish Military History- Seamus Robinson's witness statement http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1721.pdf#page=113

Ó Duibhir  : The Tipperary Volunteers in 1916: A Personal Account 75 Years On : from County Tipperary Historical Society :THJ : 1991
Aengus O Snodaigh (21 January 1999). "Gearing up for war: Soloheadbeg 1919". An Phoblacht. 
Brendan A. Creaner : The Rescue at Knocklong (8 December 2003)
Colmcille : (a) : The Third Tipperary Brigade (1921–1923); Part I- From Truce to Civil War  : THJ : 1990
Colmcille : (b) : The Third Tipperary Brigade (1921–1923); Part II- From Ambushes to Executions  : THJ : 1991
Colmcille : (c) : The Third Tipperary Brigade (1921–1923); Part III- The End of the Civil War: THJ : 1992
All preceding accessed on or after 2 Nov 2008



  1. ^ The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from The Land League to Sinn Féin, Owen McGee, Four Courts Press, 2005,
  2. ^ Wikipedia page - 1918 in Ireland
  3. ^ Aengus O Snodaigh (21 January 1999). "Gearing up for war: Soloheadbeg 1919". An Phoblacht.
  4. ^ Ryan, Desmond (1945). Sean Treacy and the Third Tipperary Brigade I.R.A. Kerryman Limited.
  5. ^ Bureau of Military History - Witness Statement 1348 Michael Davern
  6. ^ Irish Burea of Military History- witness statement 1658, Tadhg Crowe
  7. ^ Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1433
  8. ^ Irish Bureau of Military History - Witness Statement 1432, Patrick O'Dwyer
  9. ^ Peter Berresford Ellis (2007). Eyewitness to Irish History. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 231–232. ISBN 978-0-470-05312-6. 
  10. ^ History Ireland, May 2007, p.56.
  11. ^ A short History of the Third Tipperary Brigade - John R Shelley - Phoenix Publishing 1996
  12. ^ Irish Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1433