Breen the Gunman: A Blurred Line

The violent events of 1916-1923 literally wrenched Ireland in two. In the twenty-six southern, mainly Catholic counties, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) waged a successful guerrilla war against British rule, while in the northeasternmost six counties a substantial Protestant population held this region (Northern Ireland) for the Crown. Dan Breen, one of the most feared of the IRA gunmen, in his autobiography, recounted his activities during "The Troubles" and offered a rationale behind the commission of some admittedly less-than-savory actions.

Source: Dan Breen "My fight for Irish freedom", Dublin, Anvil Books 1981; pp. 7-12, 25-26, 33-41.

I was born on 11 August 1894 in my father’s cottage at Grange, one mile south of Donohill, Co. Tipperary. I received the name Daniel at my christening, which took place two days later at Solohead parish church. My parents were Daniel Breen and Honora Moore. My mother was a native of Reenavana, Doon, Co. Limerick. The children born to them in order of seniority were Laurence, Mary, John, Winifred, Catherine, Patrick, Dan and Laurence (Junior). The firstborn, Laurence, died when I was about four years old. He was eighteen at the time of his death. He and two other lads of about the same age had spent some hours fishing the Multeen brook on a night of dense fog. All three of them contracted pneumonia and died a couple of weeks later. A superstitious old woman spread the tale that the young fellows had watched a hurling match between two teams of fairies in the rath field and thereby forfeited their lives.

My father died from blood-poisoning at the age of sixty. A thorn pierced his finger when he was scarting a fence. The wound turned septic and he was laid up for more than one year before his death. He was a pleasant-looking, bearded man of middle height. I was about six years old at the time of his death and I have only a faint recollection of him. I remember one sunny day when he took me by the hand and led me through the fields. When I got tired he lifted me on to his shoulders and brought me home pick-a-back. I have a distinct memory of the coffin being brought into the room in which he was waked. The womenfolk set up such a keening that Martin Breen, my father’s cousin, ordered them to go down to the kitchen.

My father’s death must have been a great blow to my mother who had to provide for a houseful of children, the youngest of whom was still in the cradle. My mother was a midwife and managed to make ends meet even though she was hard pressed at times. Her meagre earnings were supplemented by Mary and John. Mary was hired as a general servant in a neighbour’s house at a wage of six pounds a year. John went to work for a farmer. They brought home every penny that they earned.

Even though I was very young at the time of the Boer War, I can still remember the neighbours sitting round the fire, listening to someone reading aloud the news from The Irish People. I recall their exultation over the victories gained by the Boer Generals, Cronje and de Wit, and how thrilled they were by the British defeat at Spion Kop.

I remember the last eviction which took place one mile from Grange. Michael Dwyer Ban, a relative of ours, was ejected from his home and died on the roadside. This event left an indelible impression on my mind.

The Land Act of 1903, which enabled tenants to purchase their holdings, brought-great joy to the farmers. They seemed to have entered an utopia where the threat of famine no longer existed. In a short time, however, they began to complain of the high rent, £2 to £250 an acre. I often heard my godfather, Long Jim Ryan, and my uncle, Lar Breen, talking about this high rent and also the poor price paid for milk delivered to the new Cleeve’s factory. They considered that threepence a gallon was not an economic return. I did not know the meaning of the word ‘economic’ but I received the impression that everything was not tinted with a colour of rose. Their chief grievance was that no ‘back-milk’ was given to the suppliers.

Our family barely existed above the hair-line of poverty. Most of the neighbours were in a similar plight. Potatoes and milk were our staple diet. On special occasions we had a meal of salted pork but the luxury of fresh meat was altogether beyond our reach.

I went to Garryshane school at the age of four. Even though the building was in the village of Donohill, the national school had to take its title from the name of the field on which it was built. The Protestants objected to the school being called Donohill National School; they claimed exclusive right to the prefix Donohill because it was the official name of their parish.

The school was a drab two-storey building with no playground for the pupils. The girls occupied the upper floor, the boys the ground floor. The principal of the boys’ school was James Power, a kinsman of the Breens. He died about the time that I was in the fourth class. Charlie Walshe, a Kerryman, was appointed to act as substitute teacher pending the appointment of a new principal. He was better known in later years as Cormac Breathnach, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Charlie had been engaged by the Gaelic League to teach Irish in the rural areas. He did relief work in several national schools of our district. It may be of interest to learn that he also taught Sean Treacy, Dinny Lacey, Packy Deere, Sean Hogan and a lot of my pals who are now dead. Some of those lads did not belong to our parish, but all of them lived within a two-mile radius. He did not confine his history lesson to the official textbook. He gave us the naked facts about the English conquest of Ireland and the manner in which our country was held in bondage. We learned about the Penal Laws, the systematic ruining of Irish trade, the elimination of our native language. He told us also of the ruthless manner in which Irish rebellions had been crushed. By the time we had passed from his class, we were no longer content to grow up ‘happy English children’ as envisaged by the Board of Education. To the end of his days Charlie was in the habit of boasting of his rebel past pupils.

When I reached my fourteenth year, my schooldays came to an end. I had to go out and earn my bread. Father Martin Ryan, our parish priest, gave me my first job on the renovation of our old school. Laurence Dwyer was foreman and carpenter, Pat O’Neill did the plastering, Mylie Carew and I did the rough labour. Father Ryan paid me nine shillings a week, no mean sum in the eyes of a young gossoon. I was a proud boy on that first Saturday night when I handed my pay-packet to my mother. When the renovation of the school had been completed, I worked for farmers in the district.

In the spring of 1913 I got a job as linesman on the Great Southern Railway. My wages were eighteen shillings a week, plus a living-out allowance of nine shillings (even in Dublin lodging-houses we got the best of grub at nine shillings a week). My work took me to Mallow, Cork and Dublin, because the maintenance gangs had to move from place to place as their services were required. My work made me familiar with the railway network and this knowledge served me well in later years when I was an outlaw. I was employed at the laying of the yard at Inchicore when the Great Strike of 1913 occurred. I walked round the streets of Dublin after the day’s work had finished and saw the police wielding their batons in frenzied charges, felling strikers and sightseers indiscriminately.

Sickened to death by British duplicity, cant and humbug, and by all the sham talk about a home rule measure that would give only a vestige of self-government to my country, I decided to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood. I was sworn in by Sean Treacy. I was Sean’s most intimate friend and we shared all our secrets. I am concerned that full justice has not been done to his memory.

Sean was still in swaddling clothes when his father, Denis Treacy, died. His mother took the little lad and moved to Lackenacreena near Hollyford. When her brother, Jim Allis, got married, Mrs. Treacy changed residence once more. She and her son, now aged eleven, went to live with her sister, Maryanne Allis.

Sean attended the Christian Brothers’ school at Tipperary, and was marked down as a very promising pupil who showed a special proficiency in the Irish language. He was an eager student of the history of his country. Sean’s aunt did not approve of his budding patriotic sentiments. While my mother taught me to love my country and be prepared to fight for its freedom, Maryanne Allis tried to put a brake on Sean’s youthful zeal. She had a hard outlook on the world. For this I do not blame her, because she had to toil and moil from morning to night for a mere existence.

Sean thought out all matters by himself. Of him we might use the term, a self-made patriot. Maryanne blamed me for leading her nephew astray. There was not a man on this earth who could lead on Sean Treacy to any course which he did not wish to follow. The truth is that in the matter of patriotic endeavour he was the leader, and I was his willing disciple.

Even though our houses were less than one mile apart, we did not meet face to face until we were in our eighteenth year. From the moment of my first meeting with him, I felt that I had known Sean Treacy all my life. He was the very soul of sincerity, and for that reason our kindred spirits clicked from the beginning. He had been delicate during his boyhood because of his fast rate of growth. He was almost a six-footer, slightly stooped in carriage. He weighed about twelve stone, and in an emergency manifested the strength of a lion; this was chiefly due to his amazing will-power. His movements were brisk, as if he were in a constant hurry. His hair was of very fine texture like spun-silk, almost mouse-coloured. He was short-sighted and wore glasses.

On first sight one would take Sean to be a foreigner. I remember one night when we came to a farmer’s house at Deerpark, near Carrick-on-Suir, the man of the house, Paddy Arrigan, looked at the grandfather clock which showed that it was bed-time. The family were about to kneel down for the Rosary, but were slightly uneasy because of the foreigner who might not be a Catholic.

‘Have you any objection, Mister, to our saying the Rosary?’ Paddy asked. Sean put everyone at ease by taking from his pocket a very long beads which was a gift from a Sister of Mercy. Paddy drolly observed: ‘If we are to judge your holiness by the length of your beads, a walking saint of God you must be.’

Shortly after the inauguration of the Volunteers in Dublin, a company was formed in Donohill. Some British army reservists put us through a course of drill. These fellows were called up at the outbreak of the Great War and, as a consequence, we had no one to train us in the approved methods of warfare.

Séan Treacy’s head was full of plans for organising. I had had an overdose of it during his absence in Mountjoy and Dundalk. I urged him to begin the fight immediately. He favoured delay and we agreed to differ. In partnership with my friend, Paddy Keogh, I started a ‘munition factory’. Many a lively dispute we had on the best method of manufacturing explosives. Sean had to pour oil on the troubled waters.

It would be a mistake to imagine that our factory was an exact replica of the Krupp works at Essen. We set up our paraphernalia in a little cottage owned by Tom O’Dwyer of the Boghole. Three rooms were let to Denis O’Dwyer of Dervice. Denis and Tom were both well-known characters. Our equipment was of the crudest, for we had no machinery. It was a simple matter to make black gunpowder. We also turned out hand grenades by filling tin canisters with blasting-powder. These had to be ignited before being thrown; you can imagine what a risky matter it would be if those grenades had to be brought into action on a windy night. We collected every available sporting cartridge, and refilled them with buckshot.

My first encounter with the enemy took place one night as we were returning from a raid for arms. We were cycling home from Tipperary, and the front tyre of my bicycle went flat; I told the others to go on ahead and that I would overtake them. They passed the police barracks which was situated on the outskirts of the town. The police may have heard them go by, and then come out to have a look around. Perhaps they were actually on the road and were afraid to confront six Volunteers. When I had pumped the tyre and mounted the bicycle, I was immediately pulled off by a burly Peeler. In my left hand I carried a small iron bar which was useful for forcing locks. I tried its magnetic effect on the crown of his head. The bar got the better of the argument.

After that I whipped out my revolver and held it at the ready.

‘Surrender, or I shoot,’ their officer commanded.

‘Put up your hands, or I’ll shoot the lot of you,’ I replied.

They complied instantly. I then stepped backwards wheeling my bicycle, with my gun still levelled at the Peelers, until I reached a laneway. I dashed up the lane, mounted the bicycle and made my escape. The alarm was raised and the whole town was surrounded. Every street and lane was searched. By this time I had reached the safety of our factory and rejoined my comrades.

The day came when I had the sad experience of seeing our munition factory blown sky-high. I was within fifty yards of the door, but my partner, Paddy Keogh, was actually on the premises when the explosion occurred.

We never found out what caused the trouble. I had gone to the spring-well to fetch a can of water as we had to do our own cooking and cleaning. On my return journey to the cottage, I saw the roof soar upwards and at the same moment heard the explosion of grenades. In a moment the entire building was in flames. My one thought was for the safety of my comrade; indeed, I feared that he was already gone beyond human aid. I dropped the can of water and rushed to the door. I dashed up the stairs and found Paddy lying unconscious on the floor. I raised him in my arms and with a heavy heart carried him through the rain of shrapnel. I brought him to the bank of the Multeen, the stream that flowed close to the house. My heart was wrung with anguish as I laid him beside the stream. I fetched my can to throw cold water over his pallid face. Before I had time to give him a second douche, Paddy was on his feet and rushing for me — very much alive!

‘You damn fool, do you want to drown me?’ he shouted. He added a lot more that would not make polite reading.

At last dawned the fateful morning of 21 January 1919. Our scout had his eyes fixed on the Tipperary road. Suddenly the alarm was given. Dashing towards us, he gave the word of warning: ‘They’re coming, they’re coming!’ and returned to his look-out.

If any of our number felt nervous or excited, he showed Little outward sign of it. In a flash every man was alerted. Our hour of trial was at hand; we were to face the enemy; in the balance was life or death. We were to begin another phase in the long fight for the freedom of our country.

Our scout returned to report the actual distance and the number of the escort. Nearer and nearer they came. In the clear air we heard the sound of the horse’s hooves and the rumbling of a heavy cart. Our nerves were highly strung. We were facing men trained in the use of firearms, disciplined for such emergencies. In all probability they had completed the special course in bomb-throwing. Our little squad had scant experience in the use of firearms. We had often chaffed one another about this lack of experience and joked about the consequences if our nerves got jumpy when the real test came. But we always brushed aside these idle fears, and took consolation from the thought, ‘We’re Irish anyhow, and all Irishmen are fighters by nature.’

The hour had come. I cast a hurried glance down the road. The driver and the County Council employee who was to take delivery of the explosives walked beside the horse. Two uniformed policemen armed with rifles were following at a short distance behind the cart.

One moment before, my pulse was beating rapidly from excitement, but when I saw the cavalcade at close quarters, my nervousness disappeared. I felt I could take on single-handed a squadron of those fellows. What were they but a pack of deserters, spies and hirelings? Nearer still they came conversing in low tones. They were almost under the shadow of our revolvers.

‘Hands up!’ The cry came from our men who spoke as if with one voice. ‘Hands up!’

In answer to our challenge they raised their rifles, and with military precision held them at the ready. They were Irishmen, too, and would die rather than surrender. We renewed the demand for surrender. We would have preferred to avoid bloodshed; but they were inflexible. Further appeal was useless. It was a matter of our lives or theirs. We took aim.

The two policemen fell, mortally wounded. James Godfrey, the driver of the cart, and Patrick Flynn, the County Council employee, looked on in stupefaction. If we had disarmed the police without firing a shot the matter would not have been so serious. The shots had alarmed the countryside. In a moment men and women would appear at every doorway. Within an hour, hundreds of police and military would be scouring the countryside for us. From that moment we were outlaws with a price on our heads.

We seized the rifles and equipment of the police, mounted the cart and drove away. The cart contained more than a hundredweight of gelignite. We had overlooked the seizure of the electric detonators. One week later we learned that Flynn, the County Council employee, had secreted thirty of them in his pocket.

Never was a horse called upon to give such gallant service in a dash for life and liberty. Sean Hogan held the reins; Sean Treacy and I sat behind. The rest of the party had been ordered to make their escape in different directions.

On we sped, urging our poor horse to greater speed, while school-children and farmworkers watched us in amazement as we went by.

We were heading for Donaskeigh. For a great part of our journey not a word was spoken. Treacy was the first to break the silence. In the same cool tones that he might have used if we were sitting round a fire discussing a game of cards he

casually remarked, ‘Do you remember, Dan, when we were reading about explosives? The book says that they are dangerous if frozen, or if they get jolted?’

The reminder did not add to our peace of mind; if ever explosives got a jolting, these did. The road was rough and uneven; heaps of loose stones were scattered along the way; the cart was of the ordinary farmyard type, without springs.

But we had to speed on our way until we reached the spot where we had decided to hide the booty. We quickly deposited the gelignite with the exception of two sticks which I kept for a decoy. I threw them on the roadside when we had covered a good distance. We dismounted at Ryan’s Cross and abandoned the horse and cart. The poor horse was so jaded from the gallop that he could proceed no further. He was found a few hours later at Aileen Bridge, four miles distant from Tipperary town. The discovery set the Crown forces in motion. In the ensuing months police and soldiers combed the r countryside and actually walked several times over the dugout in which the gelignite lay concealed. The loose sticks had led them on a false scent; they kept themselves warm by digging trenches all over the area. But their search was in vain.

And now our troubles began. We had to give a wide berth to Tipperary and its precincts. We were tired with the excitement of the day and the suspense of the previous days but we could not think of rest for a long while yet. The weather was intensely cold; to make things worse, it started to snow. There was now the further danger that, if the snow lodged, we might easily be traced.

We turned eastwards. Previously, we had been going north; we headed south-east towards the Galtee mountains, for to them we looked for shelter. The Galtee mountains and the Glen of Aherlow have ever been the refuge of the Tipperary ‘felon’.

We had travelled four miles by the time that we arrived at Mrs. Fitzgerald’s of Rathclogheen, near Thomastown. There we had the first square meal since early morning when my mother had given us breakfast; right heartily we enjoyed the bacon and eggs provided by our kind hostess. In that house our famous countryman, Father Theobald Mathew, had been born.

We could not afford to linger; we had yet to put many more miles between us and Soloheadbeg. We resumed our journey towards the mountains. At Keville’s Cross we crossed the Cahir and Tipperary road. The wind was piercingly cold. The only other living things which we saw out in the open were two mountain goats spancelled together near the cross-roads. Several times we lost our way. We dared not call to a strange wayside farm-house, for at that time the people had not learned the virtue of silence. At one point Sean Treacy fell into a ravine about twenty feet deep. Sean Hogan and I feared that he had been killed. When we got him out, we found that he was little the worse for his fall; he assured us that he would fire another shot before handing in his gun. All three of us continued our journey towards the summit. When we had traversed the Glen and climbed Galteemore’s rugged slopes from the Tipperary side, we lost our bearings. In the height of summer you will find it chilly enough on Galteemore. You can imagine how we felt that evening in midwinter. It had taken us three hours to make the ascent, but after all our exertions we wandered back to the two goats, back to our startingpoint. We abandoned all hope of crossing the mountain. Sean Hogan moralised: ‘Tis all very well for poets sitting at the fireside to write about the charm of mountains, but if they had to climb them in hunger and cold they would be in no mood to appreciate the beauties of nature.’

When we returned to Keville’s Cross, we altered our original plan. We crossed to the railway line and decided to face for Cahir. A fortunate decision, indeed. We had not gone many miles along the line when we saw the lights of the military lorries that were scouring the roads in search of us. Had we been down on the road, we could not have avoided them.

Travelling on railroad-tracks is tiresome even at ordinary times. For men in our condition it was a cruel ordeal but we had to keep going. In the thick darkness a figure loomed up. I was walking in front. I promptly levelled my revolver and shouted, ‘Hands up!’ The figure remained motionless. I advanced with gun levelled and walked into a railway signpost which displayed the warning, Trespassers will be prosecuted. Unhappy though our plight was, the boys laughed at my discomfiture and I had to join in the laughter.

A little farther on Sean Hogan complained that his boot was loose and asked us to stop for a moment. Sean Treacy tied the lace, but he did not travel much farther until he again complained that it was loose. He stooped to examine it and found that the whole boot had been practically worn away by the rocks. Only a bit of a sole and the laced part of the upper remained.

Sean Treacy tried to keep our spirits from drooping. Several times we asked him how far it was to Cahir and invariably got the same reply, ‘The next turn of the road.’ He was right, of course; as the road and the railway which runs parallel to it continue for thirty miles in an almost perfect straight line, the next turn was a long way off. Now and again we became so exhausted that we used to stand and rest our heads against the ditch by the railway side to doze for five minutes.

At last we reached Cahir. We were as near to absolute collapse as men could be. We were becoming desperate. For the first time we had to assume that outward coolness and take the risk which later became part of our daily routine. We walked right through the town of Cahir, a garrison-town situated on the main road from Limerick to Clonmel and Waterford, and only fifteen miles from Soloheadbeg. We had to take the risk. Our blood was almost congealed with cold; we were ravenously hungry, and there was little life left in us. We knew one good friend on whom we could rely for a night’s shelter. That friend was Mrs. Tobin of Tincurry House, near Cahir. I shall never forget her kindness to us on that night. Her house was ever open for ‘the boys’, until it was burned to the ground as an ‘official reprisal’ for the shooting of District Inspector Potter. For the first time in a week we went to bed. Excitement, cold and exhaustion made sleep impossible. For four hours we lay limp; at least we got rest for our weary limbs.

We rose from our bed, eager to hear news. Since we had left Soloheadbeg we had not spoken to anyone and had not seen a newspaper. Sure enough, just as we anticipated, there were the big splash headings, TIPPERARY OUTRAGE, FEARFUL CRIME, MURDER OF TWO POLICEMEN. We read also an account of the inquest on the dead men, Constables James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell. Most of the details furnished were absolutely false. We learned furthermore that two young men had been arrested on suspicion; neither of them had anything to do with the affair. Within a few days they were released. Two schoolboys, Sean Hogan’s brother Mathew and Timothy Connors, were also arrested by the British, as they were reported to have seen us. The father of young Connors had worked on the farm which belonged to Sean Treacy’s mother. Both boys were detained for months in an effort to extract information; in the case of Connors, a protracted legal action ensued, which resulted in a verdict against the Inspector-General of the RIC for illegal detention.

Meanwhile, there had been a sequel to the Solohead episode. South Tipperary had been proclaimed a ‘military area’. Fairs, markets and meetings were prohibited; military reinforcements were rushed into the district; garrisons were established at villages which had never before sheltered a British soldier. Night and day they patrolled the roads and scoured the fields. Our little band had unmasked the British. They had to come into the open and let the world see that they held Ireland by naked force.

We also learned that a reward of £1,000 was offered for any information that would lead to our capture. A few months later this offer was increased to £10,000. Nobody ever tried to earn it with the exception of a few members of the RIC. They failed; many of them never made the second attempt.

These are the plain unvarnished facts concerning the first armed encounter in which RIC men were killed since the Insurrection of 1916. They were the first of a series that helped to bring Ireland’s name once more before the world.

We spent two nights in Mrs. Tobin’s house. Then we went to Ned McGrath’s of Tincurry, and from there we were taken by Ned to Gorman’s of Burncourt Castle. We had arranged to go to Ryan’s of Tubrid, and sent on word that they might expect us. Shortly after, we changed our minds and did not go to Tubrid; and lucky it was for us, or for somebody else. Just at the time we had expected to arrive, the house was surrounded by eight Peelers and Ryan himself was arrested.

We decided to go on to Mitchelstown which is situated at the extreme end of the Galtees. We spent a night in O’Brien’s of Ballagh, and while we were there a peculiar thing occurred. We were sleeping in a room upstairs when strange voices aroused us. We looked out and saw several Peelers entering the house. At once we got ready for a fight, expecting to see them mounting the stairs at any moment. But they did not come up. In a few minutes they made their departure. It was only when they had gone that we learned that the object of their visit was to ascertain if the owner of the house had paid the licence for his dogs!

Eventually we reached Mitchelstown where we met Christy Ryan who welcomed us and gave us the shelter of his house. While we were there we saw eight armed policemen pass by the door. They were guarding a little packet of blasting-powder. Evidently the Soloheadbeg ambush had taught them to take no chances; they had now quadrupled the escort.

We crossed into East Limerick where Ned O’Brien of Galbally put us up. From there we travelled on to the Maloneys of Lackelly, the scene of a great encounter with the British two years later. We stayed there almost one week.

All this time we were still within a radius of ten miles from Soloheadbeg. Police and military were scouring the countryside for us, searching houses, ditches and woods. The clergy, the public and the press had unanimously condemned our action. Our only consoling thought was that the men of '98 the Fenians of ‘67 and the men of1916 were condemned in their day. As the cause of these men had been vindicated, so too would our cause when the scales fell from the eyes of the people. At this time, however, scarce a word would be heard in our defence. Our point of view was not even to be listened to. The people had voted for a Republic; now they seemed to have abandoned those who tried to bring that Republic nearer, for we had taken them at their word.

Our former friends shunned us. They preferred the drawing-room as a battleground; the political resolution rather than the gun as their offensive weapon. We had heard the gospel of freedom preached; we believed in it, we wanted to be free, and we were prepared to give our lives as proof of the faith that was in us. But those who preached the gospel were not prepared to practise it.

Even from the Irish Volunteers, who were now known as the Irish Republican Army, we got no support. Ned O’Brien and James Scanlon of Galbally, Paddy Ryan of Doon and Davy Burke of Emly certainly stood by us; but they were the exceptions.

When the account of the Soloheadbeg affair was published in the press, a man who should have stood by us made preliminary arrangements for the holding of a public meeting in the town of Tipperary. He intended to condemn our action and proclaim that the Sinn Fein organisation had no part in the incident. The meeting was, however, called off by another prominent man. A local clergyman quoted from the pulpit the old saying, ‘Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows’, but he expressed a hope that such would not be the case in the matter of the Soloheadbeg outrage; the men responsible would go to their graves with the brand of Cain on their foreheads. Such were the things said about us, but we kept on our course.

In many places we were refused shelter on nights so inclement that one would not put out a dog. I well remember one particular occasion; we were sitting in a farm-house by the fireside when there was a loud knocking at the door. It was dark, and the farmer did not wish to open until he had learned the identity of the visitor.

‘Who’s there?’ he demanded.

‘Police! ‘came the prompt reply.

Simultaneously we drew our revolvers. The door was opened and a young neighbouring farmer entered, laughing heartily at his practical joke. Before we could put away our guns the owner of the house had observed them. At once his attitude changed. He informed us point-blank that he would not permit armed men to stay under his roof. It was bitterly cold, but we had to go out and take shelter in one of the out-houses. So chilled were we that we had to drive in some of the cows to keep ourselves warm.

We had to tramp from parish to parish without a penny in our pockets. Our clothes and boots were almost worn out and we had no replacements. Many in whom we thought we could trust would not let us sleep even in their cattle-byres.

When we reached the village of Doon in Co. Limerick, still only seven miles from Soloheadbeg, we again met with Séamus Robinson. I need hardly say that our joy at the reunion was unbounded. Although it was only a few weeks since we had parted at Soloheadbeg, we felt like brothers who were meeting after years of separation. We continued our night’s march, linked arm-in-arm.