Dan Breen

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Dan Breen
Dan Breen (Chicago).jpg
Breen in Chicago in 1922
Teachta Dála
In office
February 1948 – April 1965
ConstituencyTipperary South
In office
February 1932 – February 1948
In office
August 1923 – June 1927
Personal details
Born(1894-08-11)11 August 1894
County Tipperary, Ireland
Died27 December 1969(1969-12-27) (aged 75)
Dublin, Ireland
Political party
Brigid Malone
(m. 1921)
Military service
Allegiance Irish Republic
Wanted poster for Breen during the Irish War of Independence

Daniel Breen (11 August 1894 – 27 December 1969) was a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. In later years he was a Fianna Fáil politician.


Breen was born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary. His father died when Breen was six, leaving the family very poor.[1]

He was educated locally, before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.[2]

Irish Revolutionary period[edit]

War of Independence[edit]

Breen was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On 21 January 1919, the day the First Dáil met in Dublin, Breen—who described himself as "a soldier first and foremost"—took part in the Soloheadbeg ambush.[3] The ambush party of eight men, nominally led by Séumas Robinson, attacked two Royal Irish Constabulary men who were escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, were fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

Breen later recalled:

"… we took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. [Seán] 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 …"[4]

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen's head,[5] which was later raised to £10,000.[6][7] He quickly established himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He was known for his courage. On 13 May 1919, he helped rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who was wounded, remembered how the battalion was "vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins" and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church.[8] After the fight, Seán Treacy, Séumas Robinson and Breen met Michael Collins in Dublin, where they were told to escape from the area. They agreed they would "fight it out, of course".[9] Breen and Treacy shot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escaped, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen was shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction was to make Tipperary a Special Military Area, with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorised enterprising attacks on barracks. Richard Mulcahy noted that British policy had "pushed rather turbulent spirits such as Breen and Treacy into the Dublin area".[10] The inculcation of the principles of guerrilla warfare was to become an essential part of all training. They joined Collins' Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, when Tipperary became "too hot for them".[11] and Dublin was the centre of the war.

Breen was present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage was killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount French. The IRA men hid behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles came past. They had been instructed to ignore the first car, but this contained their target, Lord French. Their roadblock failed as a policeman removed the horse and cart intended to stop the car.[12]

Civil War[edit]

Breen rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which left him angry and embittered:

"I would never have handled a gun or fired a shot … to obtain this Treaty … writing on the second anniversary of Martin Savage's death, do you suppose that he sacrificed his life in attempting to kill one British Governor-General to make room for another British Governor-General?"[13]

Although he had tried hard to avoid a conflict with his comrades after returning home from America in early 1922, Breen eventually joined the Anti-Treaty IRA in its fight against the Provisional Government of Ireland. He was captured in a major state operation in Tipperary in April 1923.[2]

Regarding the continued existence of Northern Ireland from 1922, and an inevitable further war to conquer it to create a united Ireland, Breen commented:

:"To me, a united Ireland of two million people would be preferable to an Ireland of four and a half million divided into three or four factions".[14]

In the June 1922 general election, Breen was nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, in the Waterford–Tipperary East constituency, but was not elected.[15]

Post-Civil War[edit]

In August 1923, while still in custody in Limerick Prison, Breen was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency.[16][17] He spent two months there before going on hunger strike for six days, followed by a thirst strike of six days. Breen was released in the autumn after signing a document to desist from attacking the Free State.[2]

Breen wrote a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924, later republished by Rena Dardis and Anvil Press.[2]


Fianna Fáil TD[edit]

In January 1927, he became the first anti-Treaty TD to take the Oath of Allegiance and sit in the Dáil Éireann after the establishment of the Irish Free State.[18]

Standing as an Independent Republican he was defeated in the June 1927 general election. Thereafter Breen travelled to the United States, where he opened a speakeasy. He returned to Ireland in 1932 following the death of his mother,[2] and regained his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year's general election. He represented his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.[17]

Foreign policy views[edit]

Breen supported the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War.[2]

During World War II, he was said to hold largely pro-Axis views, with admiration for Erwin Rommel.[19][2] When the fascist political party Ailtirí na hAiséirghe failed to win any seats in the 1944 Irish general election, he remarked that he was sorry that the party had not done better, as he had studied their programme and found a lot to commend.[20] In 1946, Breen became secretary of the Save the German Children Society. He attended the funeral of Nazi spy Hermann Gortz on 27 May 1947.[21] Irish-American John S. Monagan visited Breen in 1948, and was surprised to see two pictures of Adolf Hitler, a medallion of Napoleon and a Telefunken radio. Breen told him "the revolution didn't work out," and "to get the government they have now, I wouldn't have lost a night's sleep." He also said that he fought for freedom, but not for democracy.[22] In 1943, Breen sent his "congratulations to the Führer. May he live long to lead Europe on the road to peace, security and happiness".[23] After the end of World War II in Europe, the German Legation in Dublin was taken over by diplomats from the USA in May 1945, and ".. they found a recent letter from Breen asking the German minister to forward his birthday wishes to the Führer, just days before Hitler committed suicide."[24]

Breen was co-chairman of the anti-Vietnam War organisation "Irish Voice on Vietnam".[25][26]

Personal life[edit]

Dan Breen and Brigid Malone's wedding

Breen was married on 12 June 1921, during the War of Independence, to Brigid Malone, a Dublin Cumann na mBan woman and sister of Lieutenant Michael Malone who was killed in action at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge during the 1916 Rising.[27] They had met in Dublin when she helped to nurse him while he was recovering from a bullet wound.

Seán Hogan was best man, and the bride's sister Aine Malone was the bridesmaid. Photographs of the wedding celebrations taken by 5th Battalion intelligence officer Séan Sharkey are published in The Tipperary Third Brigade a photographic record.[28] Breen was, at the time, one of the most wanted men in Ireland, and South Tipperary was under martial law, yet a large celebration was held. The wedding took place at Purcell's, "Glenagat House", New Inn, County Tipperary. Many of the key members of the Third Tipperary Brigade attended, including flying column leaders Dinny Lacey and Hogan. Breen was the brother in-law of Commandant Theobald Wolfe Tone FitzGerald, the painter of the Irish Republic Flag that flew over the GPO during the Easter Rising in 1916.[29]

The Breens had two children, Donal and Granya.[30] Breen was an atheist.[31]


Breen died in Dublin in 1969, aged 75, and was buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral was the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms, Seán Treacy, at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assembled in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.[2]

Breen was the subject of a 2007 biography, Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

Breen is mentioned in the Irish folk ballad "The Galtee Mountain Boy", along with Seán Moylan, Dinny Lacey, and Seán Hogan. The song, written by Patsy Halloran, recalls some of the travels of a "Flying column" from Tipperary as they fought during the Irish War of Independence, and later against the pro-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War.

The trophy for the Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship is named in his honor.


  1. ^ Breen, Dan (1981). My fight for Irish freedom. Dublin: Anvil. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-900068-58-4., translate in French Archived 2015-04-03 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hopkinson, M. A. "Breen, Daniel ('Dan')". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 21 December 2021.
  3. ^ Townshend 2014, p. 73.
  4. ^ History Ireland, May 2007, p.56.
  5. ^ Mcconville, Sean (2005). Irish Political Prisoners 1848-1922: Theatres of War. Routledge. p. 663. ISBN 978-0-203-98716-2. Archived from the original on 4 October 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  6. ^ "Remembering the Past: Gearing up for war: Soloheadbeg 1919". Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  7. ^ "RootsWeb: CoTipperary-L Dan Breen". Archived from the original on 29 January 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  8. ^ Townshend, p.80-1.
  9. ^ Séumas Robinson, National Library of Ireland (NLI) MS 21265.; "Irish Independent" (newspaper), 21 May 1919.
  10. ^ Valiulis, Maryann, "Portrait of a Revolutionary: General Richard Mulcahy and the founding of the Irish Free State" (Dublin 1992), p.39.
  11. ^ Richard Mulcahy, "Commentary upon Piaras Beaslai's Michael Collins", UCDA (University College Dublin Archive) P7/D/I/67, as cited by Townshend, p.106
  12. ^ Dan Breen, 'Lord French Was Not Destined to Die by an Irish Bullet', "With the IRA in the Fight for Freedom" (Tralee 1955), p.45-6.
  13. ^ Public Letter from Dan Breen to Comdt McKeon, 19 December 1921. Copy in NLI MS 33914 (4).
  14. ^ Kennedy, L. Unhappy the Land Merrion Press, Dublin (2018).
  15. ^ "General election 1922: Waterford-Tipperary East". ElectionsIreland.org. Archived from the original on 28 April 2007. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  16. ^ "Dan Breen". ElectionsIreland.org. Archived from the original on 12 April 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  17. ^ a b "Daniel Breen". Oireachtas Members Database. Archived from the original on 19 January 2019. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  18. ^ "DEPUTY TAKES HIS SEAT – Dáil Éireann (4th Dáil)". Houses of the Oireachtas. 25 January 1927. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  19. ^ Britain, Ireland and the Second World War Archived 2016-10-11 at the Wayback Machine Ian S. Wood, Edinburgh University Press, 2010
  20. ^ Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the fascist 'New Order' in Ireland, R.M Douglas, page 205
  21. ^ "May 27th, 1947". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 11 April 2019. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  22. ^ Monagan, John S. "AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 23 January 2021. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  23. ^ Douglas 2009, page 205
  24. ^ Irish Examiner Archived 2019-02-16 at the Wayback Machine, 2 April 2016
  25. ^ Swift, John P. (27 July 1991). John Swift, an Irish dissident. Gill and Macmillan. ISBN 9780717118700. Archived from the original on 4 October 2021. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via Google Books.
  26. ^ Holohan, Carole (1 September 2018). Reframing Irish Youth in the Sixties. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9781786948762. Archived from the original on 4 October 2021. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ "The Battle of Mount Street Bridge 1916". c. 2021. Archived from the original on 12 December 2020. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  28. ^ "Tipperary Library Service – Something for everyone". Archived from the original on 30 July 2019. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  29. ^ "Rising from the ashes: 'Irish Republic' flag on display". Irish Times. The Irish Times. 15 March 2016. Archived from the original on 3 June 2021. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  30. ^ "Booth Family Center for Special Collections - Georgetown University Library". Archived from the original on 13 June 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  31. ^ The Twelve apostles by Tim Pat Coogan



  • Breen, Dan (1921). My fight for Irish freedom. Dublin: Anvil.

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Ambrose, Joe (2007). Dan Breen and the IRA. Mercier Press. ISBN 978-1-85635-506-3.
  • Augusteijn, Joost (1996). From Public Defiance to Guerilla Warfare: The Experience of Ordinary Volunteers in the War of Independence 1916-1921. Dublin.
  • Dalton, Charles (1929). With the Dublin Brigade (1917-1921). London.
  • Maguire, Gloria (1985). The Political and Military Causes of the Division in the Irish Nationalist Movement, January 1921 to August 1921 (D.Phil.). Oxford University.
  • Ryan, Desmond (1945). Seán Treacy and the Third Tipperary Brigade. Tralee.
  • Townshend, Charles (2005). Easter Rising 1916: The Irish Rebellion. London.
  • Townshend, Charles (2014). The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence. London.

External links[edit]

Media related to Dan Breen at Wikimedia Commons