Cathal Brugha

Cathal Brugha (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkahəlˠ ˈbˠɾˠuː]; born Charles William St John Burgess; 18 July 1874 – 7 July 1922) was an 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 1919. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1918 to 1922.

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.

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.[1]

Brugha attended Colmcille Schools on Dominic Street[2] until 1888 when he was admitted 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.[3]

In 1899, Brugha joined the Gaelic League, and he subsequently changed his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha.[4] He met his future wife, Kathleen Kingston, at an Irish class in Birr, County Offaly, and they married in 1912.[1] 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.[1]

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.[4] 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.[5]

Cathal Brugha commemorative plaque in O'Connell Street, Dublin, at the north-east 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 1919. All through the War of Independence, Brugha continued to run his business as a candle maker. He never went on the run.[6]

He was elected as a Sinn Féin Member of Parliament (MP) for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 general election.[7] 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.[8]

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.[1]

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]

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. Brugha left the Dáil, and was replaced 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.[1] 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.[1]

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, 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 1922, 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.[9] 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.[1]

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.[10][11]

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.[3]