Royal Irish Constabulary

Soloheadbeg Ambush in 1919



I was interested to watch a T.V. programme on `RTE` while visiting family in Tralee, County Kerry, called `Lergas` it was in Irish with English subtitles. It gave another point of view about the killing of the two R.I.C. Constables in the Soloheadbeg Ambush in 1919. It showed profound sadness by the descendants of James McDonnell who feel that their ancestor’s death has been dismissed by Irish historians. They wanted to tell their story.


In the pocket of Constable MacDonnell’s uniform it was said there were 30 detonators which remained undiscovered by their assailants. The killers: Hogan, Treacy and Breen drove the cart with the explosives away from the scene, while the others involved scattered in  opposite directions. Eye witnesses later saw the cart being driven at high speed in the direction of Dundrum village, County Tipperary. The horse and cart - minus its contents - were later found abandoned at Allen Creamery near Dundrum, by District Inspector O`Shea of Clonmel.


Condemnation for the killings was swift and from every quarter, even from some well known local republicans and  priests. Dan Breen claimed the constables attacked first, but a body of opinion says that this was unlikely given the odds against them. Dan Breen claims in his book, “My fight for Irish Freedom” that the constables raised their rifles in preparation for a fight and that they were forced to kill the two constables. However Breen also 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.”



It signalled the killing of Irishman by Irishman. Let`s hope that we can be in a world that is now a bit more forgiving. Some people in the six counties still suggest that men - in uniform - are legitimate targets.