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Cathal Brugha

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Cathal Brugha
Minister for Defence
In office
1 April 1919 – 9 January 1922
PresidentÉamon de Valera
Preceded byRichard Mulcahy
Succeeded byRichard Mulcahy
Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
In office
21 January 1919 – 22 January 1919
DeputyJohn J. O'Kelly
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byCount Plunkett
President of Dáil Éireann
In office
21 January 1919 – 1 April 1919
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byÉamon de Valera (as President of the Irish Republic)
Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army
In office
27 October 1917 – 23 March 1918
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byRichard Mulcahy
Teachta Dála
In office
May 1921 – 7 July 1922
ConstituencyWaterford–Tipperary East
In office
December 1918 – May 1921
ConstituencyWaterford County
Personal details
Charles William St John Burgess

(1874-07-18)18 July 1874
Dublin, Ireland
Died7 July 1922(1922-07-07) (aged 47)
Dublin, Ireland
Resting placeGlasnevin Cemetery, Glasnevin, Dublin, Ireland
(m. 1912)
Children6, including Ruairí
EducationBelvedere College
Military service
Years of service1913–1922
RankChief of Staff

Cathal Brugha (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkahəlˠ ˈbˠɾˠuː]; born Charles William St John Burgess; 18 July 1874 – 7 July 1922) was an Irish republican politician who served as Minister for Defence from 1919 to 1922, Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann in January 1919, the first president of Dáil Éireann from January 1919 to April 1919 and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army from 1917 to 1918. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1918 to 1922.[1]

He was active in the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, and was the first Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of Dáil Éireann as well as the president of Dáil Éireann, the then title of the head of government.

Early life[edit]

Brugha was born in Dublin, of mixed Roman Catholic and Protestant parentage. He was the tenth child in a family of fourteen. His father, Thomas, was a cabinet maker and antique dealer who had been disinherited by his family for marrying an Irish Catholic, Maryanne Flynn.[2]

Brugha attended Colmcille Schools on Dominick Street[3] until 1888 when he moved to Belvedere College. He had intended to study medicine but this did not come to fruition after his father's business failed in 1890. Brugha was seen as an austere figure, not very different from Éamon de Valera, and was known not to smoke cigarettes, swear or drink alcohol.[4]

Political activity[edit]

In 1899, Brugha joined the Gaelic League, and he subsequently changed his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha.[5] [6] He met his future wife, Kathleen Kingston, at an Irish class in Birr, County Offaly, and they married in 1912 in the Church of Three Patrons in Rathgar (where fellow Belvederean James Joyce had sung in the choir before leaving for Europe).[2] They had six children, five girls and one boy. Brugha became actively involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB); in 1913, he became a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers. He led a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland in the Howth gun-running of 1914.[2]

Brugha started work with Hayes & Finch, a firm supplying churches with candles. In 1909 he and two of his workmates, Anthony and Vincent Lalor, founded Lalor Ltd, a candlemaking and church supplies firm based at 14 Lower Ormond Quay; Brugha became a director and travelling salesman. Caitlín Kingston came from a family of large shopkeepers; later she ran Kingston's drapery, one of Dublin's central draperies.

He was second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the Thursday of Easter Week, being badly wounded, he was unable to leave when the retreat was ordered. Brugha, weak from loss of blood, continued to fire upon the enemy, and was found by Eamonn Ceannt singing "God Save Ireland" with his pistol still in his hands. He was initially not considered likely to survive. He recovered over the next year, but was left with a permanent limp.[5] Brugha was elected Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on 21 January 1919, and he read out the Declaration of Independence in Irish, which ratified "the establishment of the Irish Republic". On the following day, 22 January, he was appointed president of the ministry pro tempore. He retained this position until 1 April 1919, when Éamon de Valera took his place.[7]

Militant republicanism[edit]

War of Independence[edit]

Cathal Brugha commemorative plaque in O'Connell Street, Dublin, at the northeast corner of the junction with Cathedral Street. (Bullet-marked stonework included as part of memorial)

He proposed a Republican constitution at the 1917 Sinn Féin convention, which was unanimously accepted. In October 1917, he became Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and held that post until March 1918. All through the War of Independence, Brugha continued to run his business as a candle maker. He never went on the run.[8]

He was elected as a Sinn Féin Member of Parliament (MP) for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 general election.[9] In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. Owing to the absence of Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, Brugha presided over the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on 21 January 1919.[10]

He had differences with Michael Collins, who, although nominally only the IRA's Director of Intelligence, had far more influence in the organisation as a result of his position as a high-ranking member of the IRB, an organisation that Brugha saw as undermining the power of the Dáil and especially the Ministry for Defence. Brugha opposed the oath of allegiance required for membership of the IRB; in 1919, his proposition that all Volunteers should swear allegiance to the Irish Republic and the Dáil was adopted.[2]

At a top-level IRA meeting in August 1920, Brugha argued against ambushes of Crown forces unless there was first a call to surrender, but it was dismissed as unrealistic by the brigade commanders present. Brugha also had the idea of moving the front line of the war to England, but was opposed by Collins.[citation needed]

Civil War[edit]

Cathal Brugha's grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

On 7 January 1922, Brugha voted against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During the Treaty Debates, he pointed out that Collins had only a middling rank in the Department for Defence, which supervised the IRA, even though Griffith hailed him as 'the man who had won the war'. It has been argued that, by turning the issue into a vote on Collins' popularity, Brugha swung the majority against his own side. Frank O'Connor, in his biography of Collins, states that two delegates who had intended to vote against the Treaty changed sides in sympathy with Collins. After the vote, the anti-Treaty TDs moved into opposition and Brugha was succeeded as Minister for Defence by Richard Mulcahy.

In the months between the Treaty debates and the outbreak of Civil War, Brugha attempted to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders including Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey from taking up arms against the Free State.[2] When the IRA occupied the Four Courts, he and Oscar Traynor called on them to abandon their position. When they refused, Traynor ordered the occupation of the area around O'Connell Street in the hope of easing the pressure on the Four Courts and of forcing the Free State to negotiate.[2]

On 28 June 1922, Brugha was appointed commandant of the forces in O'Connell Street. The outbreak of the Irish Civil War ensued in the first week of July when Free State forces commenced shelling of the anti-treaty positions.

Most of the anti-Treaty fighters under Oscar Traynor escaped from O'Connell Street when the buildings they were holding caught fire, leaving Brugha in command of a small rearguard. On 5 July 1922, he ordered his men to surrender but refused to do so himself. In Thomas Lane he then approached the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver and sustained a bullet wound to the leg which 'severed a major artery causing him to bleed to death'. He died on 7 July, eleven days before his 48th birthday. He had been re-elected as an anti-Treaty TD at the 1922 general election but died before the Dáil assembled.[11] He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

His wife Caitlín Brugha served as a Sinn Féin TD from 1923 to 1927. His son Ruairí Brugha later became a politician, firstly supporting Clann na Poblachta and later Fianna Fáil, and was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1973 general election. Ruairí married Máire MacSwiney, the daughter of Terence MacSwiney, the Republican Lord Mayor of Cork who had died on hunger strike in 1920.[2]

Legacy and commemoration[edit]

Cathal Brugha Street and Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin and Cathal Brugha Street in Waterford are named after him. As of 2016, he is survived by his grandson Cathal MacSwiney Brugha and his great-grandson, Air Corps lieutenant Gearóid Ó Briain.[12][13]

His wife, Caitlín Brugha, survived him, along with their five daughters and his son, Ruairí Brugha. Caitlín was elected as a Sinn Féin TD for Waterford; Ruairí would follow in his father's and mother's footsteps and become a Fianna Fáil TD in Dublin from 1973 to 1977.[4]

Brugha is mentioned by name in "The Foggy Dew".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Quinn, James. "Brugha, Cathal". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Máire MacSwiney Brugha (2006). History's Daughter: A Memoir from the Only Child of Terence MacSwiney. Dublin: O'Brien Press. ISBN 978-0-86278-986-2.
  3. ^ O. Cillin, Michael (September 1985). "Cathal Brugha 1874-1922". Dublin Historical Record. 38 (4): 141–149. JSTOR 30100671. Retrieved 10 November 2021.
  4. ^ a b Quinn, James. "Brugha, Cathal by James Quinn" (PDF). National Archives of Ireland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  5. ^ a b Quinn, James (2009). "Brugha, Cathal (National Archives of Ireland webpage)" (PDF). Dictionary of Irish Biography. 1: 951–954. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2014. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  6. ^ Cencus of Ireland 1911 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000035988/
  7. ^ "Cathal Brugha". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/52529. Retrieved 31 May 2016. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. ^ Thorne, Kathleen, (2016), Echoes of Their Footsteps, The Quest for Irish Freedom 1913-1922, Generation Organization, Newberg, OR, pg 35, ISBN 978-0-692-245-13-2
  9. ^ "Cathal Brugha". Oireachtas Members Database. Archived from the original on 7 November 2018. Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  10. ^ "Roll call of the first sitting of the First Dáil". Dáil Éireann Historical Debates (in Irish). 21 January 1919. Archived from the original on 19 November 2007. Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  11. ^ "Cathal Brugha". ElectionsIreland.org. Archived from the original on 25 August 2007. Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  12. ^ "1916 centenary: Commemoration draws huge crowds to capital as thousands join dignitaries for historic ceremony". Irish Examiner. 28 March 2016. Archived from the original on 26 October 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  13. ^ "Plaque unveiled to commemorate sacrifice of Easter Week". independent. 9 May 2016. Archived from the original on 7 February 2021. Retrieved 22 October 2020.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Waterford County
Constituency abolished
New constituency Teachta Dála for Waterford County
Constituency abolished
Political offices
New office Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
21–22 January 1919
Succeeded by
President of Dáil Éireann
Jan–Apr 1919
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Defence
Succeeded by