Dan Breen

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Dan Breen
Daniel Breen police notice.jpg
Teachta Dála
In office
In office
Constituency Tipperary
In office
Constituency Tipperary South
Personal details
Born (1894-08-11)11 August 1894
County Tipperary, Ireland
Died 27 December 1969(1969-12-27) (aged 75)
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Fianna Fáil
Sinn Féin
Spouse(s) Brigid Malone

Daniel "Dan" Breen (Irish: Dónall Ó Braoin; 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.


Dan Breen was born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary. His father died when Dan was six, leaving them very poor.[1] Looking back on his upbringing in a family of tenant farmers, Breen recalled in a 1967 interview,

"I remember an Englishman asking me in England, oh, about thirty years ago, is it true that we kept the pig in the kitchen. 'No, we'd have him in the bedroom,' I said. 'If we didn't,' I said, 'we couldn't pay the rent to bastards like you.'"[2]

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



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, led by Seán Treacy, 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. 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, Treacy, Seamus Robinson and Breen met Collins in Dublin, where they were told to make themselves scarce. They agreed they would "fight it out, of course".[9]

He and Sean 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 entrerprising 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 Michael 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 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]


During 1921, ill-discipline went unchallenged in Tipperary. Richard Mulcahy complained from GHQ that looting in the 2nd Brigade's area would spread to 3rd Brigade's. The Brigade lacked the cohesion exhibited during the early part of the Anglo-Irish War. Breen utterly rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which made him, like many others, 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]

In the June 1922 elections Breen was nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but was not elected.[14]

Irish Civil War[edit]

Breen was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency.[15] Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joined the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who supported the Treaty. He was arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spent two months here before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days. Breen was then released.


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. 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 The Tipperary Third Brigade a photographic record.[16] 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.

The Breens had two children, Donal and Granya.[17]


Breen wrote a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom in 1924. He represented Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken.[18] He was the first anti-Treaty TD to take his seat, in 1927. He was defeated in the June 1927 general election and travelled to the United States where he opened a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returned to Ireland and regained his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year's general election. During World War II he was said to hold largely pro-Axis views.[citation needed] He represented his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.[15]


He died in Dublin in 1969 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.

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


  1. ^ Breen, Dan (1981). My fight for Irish freedom. Dublin: Anvil. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-900068-58-4. , translate in French
  2. ^ 1967 interview on YouTube
  3. ^ Charles Townshend, "The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence", (London 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. 
  6. ^ http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/4455
  7. ^ http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/CoTipperary/2003-05/1053400540
  8. ^ Townshend, p.80-1.
  9. ^ Seamus 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. ^ "General election 1922: Waterford-Tipperary East". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  15. ^ a b "Mr. Daniel Breen". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 24 May 2009. 
  16. ^ The Tipperary Third Brigade a photographic record — Neil Sharkey 1994
  17. ^ http://www.library.georgetown.edu/dept/speccoll/breen.htm
  18. ^ "Dan Breen". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 29 April 2012. 



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

Dan Breen also wrote another book about his exploits. The title was "On The Run."

Secondary Sources[edit]

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