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Mary Lou McDonald TD full speech at Soloheadbeg centenary commemoration

19 January, 2019 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD

Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD today addressed a crowd marking the centenary of the Soloheadbeg ambush in Tipperary. 

Below is the full text of Deputy McDonald's speech.


A chairde,

Cuireann sé an-áthas orm mar Uachtarán Shinn Féin a bheith libh inniú agus muid ag comóradh na heachtraí stairiúla a tharla anseo ag Sulchóid Bheag i Contae Thiobrad Árainn céad bliain ó shin Dé Luain seo chugainn.

Cuimhnímíd orthu siúd uile a sheas an fód ar son na saoirse sa tréimhse sin. Táimíd bródúil astu, fir agus mná a bhí sa bhearna bhaoil agus an tír seo á ionsaí ag Rialtas na Breataine. Ar son na Poblachta daonlathach a bhí siad ag troid agus is cuí an rud go bhfuil cuimhne fós orthu.

I stand here as a proud Irish Republican with Tipperary roots and as President of Sinn Féin to remember the historic event that took place here in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, one hundred years ago.

The action here at Soloheadbeg is regarded as the first significant attack by the Irish Republican Army on British crown forces in that period. 

These were ordinary men living in extraordinary times. The nine Volunteers involved had been lying in wait here for five days, expecting an RIC detachment to arrive with a consignment of explosives.

Waiting in the cold and wet for the time to act. Each evening they returned to the home of Dan Breen. At huge risk, Dan’s mother Hanora - a widowed mother - opened up her home to her rebel son and comrades. At four each morning they set out to take up their positions.

Each day before they left, Hanora Breen got up and made a breakfast. I love the way Dan Breen tells it in his book ‘My Fight for Irish Freedom’. On the fifth morning Dan’s mother said:

“If you don’t do something today, you can get your own breakfast tomorrow.” Soloheadbeg occurred on the very day that First Dáil Éireann met to hold its inaugural meeting in Dublin’s Mansion House.

The majority of the people of this island had spoken at the ballot box. They voted for Sinn Féin and they voted for equality, for liberty and to break the link with Britain. It was no surprise that there were young men, and women too, prepared to make that democratic vote effective by armed force if necessary.

The events of that day cannot be properly understood outside the context of the time and the background.

Armed actions had begun before Soloheadbeg and before the 1916 Rising. It was not Irish Republicans who brought the gun into Irish politics in that period. This country had been garrisoned for centuries by British crown forces. 

The British Conservative and Unionist Party had helped to fund, to train, to lead and to arm the Ulster Volunteer Force. And they were duly deployed, with the co-operation of senior British Army officers, to threaten war if Home Rule was implemented.

The message was clear in 1914 when the UVF landed thousands of arms at Larne, which was facilitated by crown forces while the Irish Volunteers landing of a tiny fraction of that number of arms at Howth was followed by the killing of three Dublin civilians by the British Army.

Republicans were not the advocates of a blood sacrifice, that fell to John Redmond when he induced tens of thousands of Irishmen to their deaths in the trenches of an Imperialist War. With war came the repressive Defence of the Realm Act, rendering peaceful political opposition to British rule and to British Army recruiting as seditious and empowering the British authorities to suppress and censor and imprison at will.

This was the background to the 1916 Rising and - of course - in its aftermath repression greatly increased with executions, mass imprisonment and deportation. The years 1917 and 1918 saw military rule throughout Ireland.

People were jailed for public speaking, for flying the Tricolour, for singing nationalist songs. Meetings, dances and GAA games were suppressed, people were attacked with bayonets and bullets. And the British government greatly escalated the situation when it prepared to enforce Conscription in April 1918. 

This was despite – or indeed in response to - the verdict of the people in by- elections in which elected Republican MPs were elected. The British government refused to listen to the democratic will of the Irish people.

The leaders of Sinn Féin, including many newly elected MPs, remained in prison. The people had entered a new era politically but the old British military regime remained the same. 

It was little wonder then that those like Dan Breen and Seán Treacy concluded, in Breen’s words, that they “had had enough of being pushed around and getting our men imprisoned while we remained inactive”.

They determined to seize arms from the RIC. The actions of the IRA at Soloheadbeg did not start a war with the British and armed actions remained isolated events. Republicans prioritised a peaceful path.

The Dáil had met, it had sent its delegates to the Peace Conference in Paris, it had appealed to public opinion in Britain, in the USA and worldwide. Door after door was slammed shut to Ireland by the British government, including at the Peace Conference, and this culminated in the outright banning of Dáil Éireann in late 1919.

It was after those peaceful roads were closed that the conflict intensified.

Contrary to the so-called revisionists it was the actions of the British government which made armed conflict inevitable. Martin McGuiness once said that, “he did not go to war but war came to him”. The people of County Tipperary and the people of Ireland did not go to war, the British government brought war to them.

War is not something to be glorified. It is not the first, second or third option for anyone. It is the last option of last resort. When that arises there are always those willing to step into the “bhearna bhaoil”.

To act selflessly and to risk life and liberty. We remember with pride those who refused to lie down, those who were ready to resist and those who stood up to the British Empire. It is right and fitting to honour those who risked all at Soloheadbeg.

To remember Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seamus Robinson, Seán Hogan, Tim Crowe, Patrick O’Dwyer, Michael Ryan, Patrick McCormack and Jack O’Meara. Across Ireland, men and women such as these fought for freedom. They had the support of the people without whom they could not have operated.

It was a people’s struggle for freedom. War is not something to be celebrated as it comes at a price and that is why we must remember the loss of the life of RIC members Patrick MacDonnell and James O’Connell.

As Republicans we know the cost of conflict and that is why we now have a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish Unity and to an Irish Republic.

No other generation should face the choices that Seán Tracey and Dan Breen faced and no other generation should pay the cost that the MacDonnell and O’Connell families paid. There are some in powerful positions today who would like others to forget these events.

We watch on as they contort themselves to remove the name of Sinn Féin and the IRA from history. 

They wish us to forget that the degree of independence won for the 26 Counties was only won because the British government was forced to the negotiating table in 1921.

For the most part of the past one hundred years, this state has been governed by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Geal. They now rule together in government and opposition.

The bravery of the volunteers at Soloheadbeg is in stark contrast to decades of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael government. One hundred years on and these parties have failed to deliver the hard fought for republic.

They want to the people to believe that their way is the only way. They fear that people look back and see another way is possible.

They fear a risen people. They fear a woken generation, who see through their revisionism, hypocrisy and denial of rights. Who look on in disbelief at a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, parties that believe that homelessness is acceptable, poverty is inevitable and partition permanent.

They tell us, one hundred years after Soloheadbeg that now is not the time to talk of Irish Unity. Let me say loud and clear. Now is the time and this is the place. We will have unity, we will have equality and we will have our sovereignty.

We will have a Republic to honour all our patriots. It will be a Republic of equal citizens and a home to all. A Republic that is not sullied by homelessness and health care waiting lists. A Republic where workers are respected and rewarded for a fair day’s work. 

It will take patience and generosity. It will take courage and determination. It will take all of us to work together for the greater good. We will prevail, we must prevail. A new and united Ireland is the most fitting tribute to those who came before us.

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