THE Soloheadbeg attack on a group of RIC officers escorting a consignment of explosives is generally accepted as the start of the War of Independence. There may have been some earlier incidents, including an attack on an RIC Barracks in Kerry but Soloheadbeg was the first occasion in which firearms were discharged and where there were fatalities. Members of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the IRA led by Sean Treacy, Dan Breen and Séamus Robinson shot dead two members of the RIC.
Breen was born in Donohill and his father died when he was six. He first worked as a plasterer and later as a linesman for the Great Southern and Western Railways. He joined the IRB in 1912 and the Volunteers in 1914.
Many years later, Breen admitted that he and Treacy felt the only way to start a full-scale war was as a result of fatalities and that they deliberately set out to initiate such a situation. Tipperary was designated a special military area and for the first time, aeroplanes were used in a search for the IRA. A reward was offered for the capture of Breen and within six months, this was raised to £10,000. Arising from the ambush and the search, one of their colleagues, Sean Hogan, was arrested and sent by train to Cork. Breen and his group attacked the train at Knocklong, Hogan was rescued but two more members of the RIC were killed and both Breen and Treacy were injured. All told, he was shot on at least four different occasions. While based in Dublin, he shot his way through a British cordon round the house he was in Drumcondra and also took part in the ambush of the Lord Lieutenant, Lord French.
He opposed the Treaty, captured by Free State troops and interned in Limerick. He was released some months later following, first, a hunger strike and, then, a thirst strike. Surprisingly for the June 1922 elections, he was nominated by both Pro and anti-Treaty sides but failed to get elected. In 1927, he became the first anti-Treaty TD to take his seat in the Dáil but lost at the next election. He then left for America.
This was the time of Prohibition and he opened a speakeasy or illegal drinking house in New York. That trade was controlled by the Mafia but evidently, Breen did not fall foul of them. Reportedly all his employees were former IRA members so that might have helped.
He returned to Ireland and with the founding of Fianna Fáil was elected for that party for Tipperary in 1932. He continued to serve as TD for Tipperary until 1965 when he did not stand for re-election, making him the longest-serving TD for that constituency. He had little time for much of what he considered to be de Valera’s ravings and also fell out with the leader of the Tipperary Brigade of the IRA, Séamus Robinson. Apart from those two, he was help in high regard by many comrades and opponents from Civil War days.
His retirement from politics was short lived and he died in hospital in Dublin within four years. Dan Breen, long-serving TD and veteran on the War of Independence died on December 27, 1969, 43 years ago this week.