commandant-edmund-breslin Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Edmund Joseph Columba (Ned) Breslin

Born Derry 4 March 1898, died Dublin 24 September 1959

A personal reflection by his grand-nephew Gerry Cassidy

When I was a child my mother and her sisters were great story tellers regaling us with wonderful stories about our ancestors. I knew then that they were mainly fairy tales but nevertheless I enjoyed listening to their yarns. When the troubles broke in in the late 60s, things at home in the Creggan Estate had changed and gone were the wonderful yarns, to be replaced by debates about the latest incident and what the future held for us.

I was in my early teens when the Troubles broke out and found life was changing dramatically but, being a young man, I found the situation exciting. This rekindled our interest in Irish history and past campaigns and why they failed. It was around this time I became aware of my mother’s “uncle Edmund” but no information was forth coming other than my grandfather Daniel and Edmund were in the Free State army. My grandfather had resigned but there was something about Edmund that was better left unsaid.

The Troubles hit myself and the family when my cousin Joe, who lived a few doors from us, was shot dead. Joe was a Volunteer in the IRA and was killed after an engagement with the British Army. Joe was a grand-nephew of Edmund Breslin. Another cousin, Shelia Breslin was arrested and sentenced to 5 years in Armagh jail. Like most of my friends and family we had no connection or care for “Free Staters”

As time passed, many friends and neighbours were killed or spent many years in prison. But time did pass and the fire in my belly was no longer burning as it did in my youth and perhaps marriage and children can do that to youth and that sense of invincibility.

About 5 years ago I started to research my family tree and, after doing my father’s side of the family, commenced my mother’s side – the Breslins. A visit to my uncle Daniel and his information about uncle Edmund blew me away. He was the first to let me know that he was known in Dublin as “Ned” Breslin and started me on a journey of discovery about this fascinating man and the life he led. I made many trips to Dublin and London in order to find out all I could about Ned.

Here is what I have discovered about Ned Breslin, my grand-uncle.

How he got to Dublin is still a mystery as to date, despite two visits to the military archives, I have been unable to view his pension file. According to Colonel J. V. Joyce in his witness statement, Ned was made a full time member of the Dublin ASU in December 1920.

He took part in all operations as a member of the Dublin ASU (source An t-Óglach magazine May 1922).

He saved the lives of two of his comrades during an operation near the Phoenix Park. According to Christopher Fitzsimons, himself, Tom Flood and Ned were out to engage the enemy when an open touring car with four Auxiliaries approached from behind them. As soon as the car passed, Tom Flood, whose brother had been executed around this time, reached for his gun. Ned grabbed him and steered him into a pub in Queen St. Ned realised quickly that the first car was a decoy and another armoured car came from the same direction. The three men survived and went on to fight the good fight. Tom Flood and Ned remained lifelong friends and Tom was later best man at his wedding.

According to Joe Leonard, Ned was also brought into the Squad from an early stage to support their operations. In his papers, he makes the following claim. “The Tipperary Volunteers (Breen, Treacy, Robinson and Hogan) returned to their area on or about 20 Feb 1920. The unit consisted of O’Daly, Leonard, Barrett, Doyle, Keogh, Slattery, Byrne, Bolster, Eddie Byrne, Ben Byrne, Reilly, Kennedy, Hanlon and Ned Breslin. His role in the squad was also confirmed in Vinny Byrne‘s papers.

Ned took part in the Custom House attack and was captured. Ned’s role has been well documented as he was arrested by the Auxiliaries who claimed he had a bullet in the lining of his jacket. I was aware from an old grand-aunt that Ned was tortured at the hands of the Auxies. He had a few fingernails badly damaged on his hands. In the Mountjoy prisoner entry sheet, his height was shown as 5 feet. Ned was about 5 ft 6. It is believed that he was brought to Mountjoy on a stretcher and his height was estimated from a lying position. He and the other men were tried by court martial by a British officer named Brigadier F S Montague-Bates. Ned’s wife claimed, as others have, that the men were sentenced to death but were saved by the signing of the treaty. I have been unable to confirm this but will continue to research. *

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Ned at Beggars Bush

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Ned with Paddy O’Daly at Portobello Barracks

Ned was part of the first Dublin Guards who took over Beggars Bush after the treaty in February 1922. In May 1922, he was promoted to Commandant in an ever-expanding Free State Army.

Posted to Kerry under the command of Paddy O’Daly, he was part of the group of Dublin Guards who were involved in the killings at Ballyseedy.

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I accept his role on that dreadful night. He has been singled out I feel unfairly as being the man responsible for what happened that night. I have read the court of inquiry papers and I was surprised as to how many were involved but are never mentioned. The RTE documentary was mainly responsible for highlighting his role that night but as always it contained inaccuracies. The documentary claims that “O’Daly, Breslin, Clark and Flood were requested to resign from the Irish Army”.  This statement is not true and is taken out of context. I will refer to it with the Mutiny. The night of 6 March, Ned lost close comrades as a result of the booby trap mine at Knocknagoshel. Ballyseedy happened the following night – an act of revenge no doubt. Was one act any more justifiable than the other?

While serving in Kerry, Ned met the love of his life Mary Slattery. Mary was from a republican family who on the main took the treaty side. She had a brother Thomas who was shot dead 10 Feb 1923 while serving with the Free State army. Mary was very active in Kerry during the war of independence and took part in many operations. She attended the Michael Collins commemoration and mass for many years when herself and Ned moved to Dublin. A wonderful photo of their wedding in Kerry, kindly given to me by a member of the Flood family, shows Tom Flood standing at the top of the steps as they are leaving the hotel.

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Wedding of Ned Breslin and Mary Slattery in Kerry (Tom Flood at top of steps)

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Mary Breslin at a Collins Commemoration

Ned returned to Dublin and remained in the Free State Army until the Mutiny of March 1924, involving pre-Truce officers led by Major-General Liam Tobin. Their aims were outlined in a document presented to the new Free State government. However no agreement was reached which led to mass resignations including three Major-Generals, seven Colonels and numerous Commandants, including Ned Breslin.

I have a document which shows that Military Intelligence were keeping a close eye on the mutineers.

Ned was re-commissioned back into the Army during the Emergency as an officer in the 26th Battalion. He died on 24 September 1959 and is buried with Mary at Balgriffin Cemetery, near Portmarnock, Co Dublin.

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Headstone of Ned & Mary Breslin

I am extremely proud of my grand uncle Ned. I was amazed when this photo was taken of their grave as to who was buried directly behind them – Bridget Murphy wife of Humphrey Murphy, O/C Kerry Brigade!

Gerry Cassidy

*Gerry has since helped resolve what really happened, the explanation is here.