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Talking About Dan Breen Joe Ambrose talks about talking about Dan Breen

Talking About Dan Breen

Joe Ambrose talks about talking about Dan Breen

by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor (2005-2018)
first published: August, 2010
If I had a penny for every time I've spoken about Dan Breen I'd be a multi - millionaire.

I dropped into a London record shop where I meet Stan, a singer in an English punk band sporting spiky hair and lime green nail polish, who works in the shop. We usually chat about what he'd been up to in his career or what I've been up to in mine.

I told him that I'm flying to Dublin the next day to film a TV interview for a documentary on a guy from my own county whom I wrote a book about who is often thought to have started the Irish War of Independence.

This is how I usually describe Dan Breen to foreigners unfamiliar with Ireland's independence saga.

"Ah, Dan Breen! My Fight for Irish Freedom!" announces Stan proudly.

"Yes." I confirm, a bit taken aback. I'd never seen such an unlikely Dan Breen fan. "How come you know about Dan?"

"Oh, my Granddad came from Ireland and he was forever going on about Dan Breen and he gave me his book to read when I was 14."

"Yeah, well," I said. "I'm off to Ireland to talk about him;"

-When I arrive at my hotel I get an email from Jerry, producer of this Breen documentary for TG4, to say that he'd like to film me in the afternoon at Kilmainhan Jail. He has a morning appointment close to Government Buildings with Minister Martin Mansergh whose family were Breen's landlords, and whom I first met when he was part of the core team around Charlie Haughey. Mansergh now effectively holds Breen's old Fianna Fail seat on the east side of Tipperary South. I arrange to meet Jerry, after his ministerial meeting, at the Kilkenny Design Centre café on Nassau St. at 2pm.

I manage to fit in a brief meeting, at 12.30, with a German film producer planning to make a movie about the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848. He is travelling down to Tipperary the next day and wants me to mark his cards concerning locations he should check out. If I had a penny for every time I've attended a meeting about a proposed movie I'd b a millionaire. 

I've never been inside Kilmainham Jail, or any other prison before. Despite a warm welcome from the girls at the front desk, the old jail is freezing cold. I think about what a perishing place it must have been to serve a sentence in, and how it still has an intimidating quality to it.

My interview is filmed in a basement corridor used in the Michael Collins film. Some of the appropriately dank and peeling prison walls behind me were, it turns out, props installed for the movie.

I frantically thumb through my Breen book, written in 2007, to remind myself of names and sequences of events. I should have all this stuff off by heart but I usually write a book a year and some information has to be put on the back burner.

I get paid modestly for the Breen interview - and Jerry's documentary will almost certainly happen. It's nice to get paid just for talking. If I had a penny for every time I've spoken about Dan Breen I'd be a multimillionaire. One is aware, when speaking frankly for the cameras about Breen, that his family will probably be sitting down around their televisions in a few month's time to hear what I have to say abut him. His daughter is still alive in Australia.

Breen was an important man but no saint. His late son Donal stayed in my family home back in the 80s when I first wrote about his father but refused to speak to me about him. I never met Dan Breen and what was utterly impersonal for me was very personal for those who knew him or cared about him.

Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor (2005-2018)

Joe Ambrose wrote 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe sadly passed away in 2018. Visit Joe's website which was completed just before his passing, for more info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.
about Joe Ambrose »»

If I had a penny for every time I've spoken about Dan Breen I'd be a multi - millionaire.

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