Cathal Brugha

Cathal Brugha
President of Dáil Éireann
In office
21 January 1919  1 April 1919
Preceded by

Patrick Pearse (as President of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic

24–30 April 1916)
Succeeded by Éamon de Valera
Chief of Staff, Irish Republican Army
In office
27 October 1917  March 1919
Succeeded by Richard Mulcahy
Minister for Defence
In office
1 April 1919  9 January 1922
Preceded by Richard Mulcahy (1st time)
Succeeded by Richard Mulcahy (2nd time)
Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
In office
21 January 1919  22 January 1919
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Count Plunkett
Personal details
Born (1874-07-18)18 July 1874
Dublin, Ireland
Died 7 July 1922(1922-07-07) (aged 47)
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Spouse(s) Caitlín Kingston
Relations Ruairí Brugha (son)
Children 6
Occupation Clerk, Soldier

Cathal Brugha (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkahəɫ̪ bˠɾˠuː]; born Charles William St. John Burgess) (18 July 1874 – 7 July 1922) was an Irish revolutionary and politician, active in the Easter Rising, Irish War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War and was the first Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of Dáil Éireann.


Brugha was born in Dublin of mixed Roman Catholic and Protestant parentage. His father, Thomas, was a cabinet maker and antique dealer who had been disinherited by his family for marrying a Catholic.[1] He was the tenth of fourteen children and was educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College but was forced to leave at the age of sixteen because of the failure of his father's business. He went on to set up a church candle manufacturing firm with two brothers, Anthony and Vincent Lalor, and took on the role of travelling salesman.

Political activity

In 1899 Brugha joined the Gaelic League, and he subsequently changed his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha.[2] 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) and 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.[2] Brugha was elected speaker 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 de Valera took his place.[3]

War of Independence

Cathal Brugha commemorative plaque in O'Connell Street, Dublin. (Bullet marked stonework included as part of memorial)

Brugha organised an amalgamation of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army into the Irish Republican Army (IRA). 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.

He was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 general election.[4] 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. Due to the absence of Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, Brugha presided over the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on 21 January 1919.[5]

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 Irish Republican Brotherhood, 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 and, 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.

Civil War

Cathal Brugha's grave

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 Arthur 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. He 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. He then approached the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver. He 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.[6] 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 Fianna Fáil and Clann na Poblachta politician 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]

Legacy and Commemoration

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 McSwiney Brugha and his great grandson, Air Corps lieutenant Gearóid Ó Briain.[7][8]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Máire MacSwiney Brugha (2006). History's Daughter: A Memoir from the Only Child of Terence MacSwiney. Dublin: The O'Brien Press. ISBN 978-0-86278-986-2.
  2. 1 2 Quinn, James (2009). "Brugha, Cathal (National Archives of Ireland webpage)" (PDF). Dictionary of Irish Biography. 1: 951–954. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  3. "Cathal Brugha". Retrieved 2016-05-31.
  4. "Mr. Cathal Brugha". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  5. "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.
  6. "Cathal Brugha". Retrieved 24 May 2009.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cathal Brugha.
Political offices
New office Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
21–22 January 1919
Succeeded by
Count Plunkett
President of Dáil Éireann
Jan–Apr 1919
Succeeded by
Éamon de Valera
Preceded by
Richard Mulcahy
Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
Richard Mulcahy
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