Joseph McGrath (Irish politician)

For other people named Joseph McGrath, see Joseph McGrath (disambiguation).

Joseph McGrath (Irish: Seosamh Mac Craith; 1887 – 1 March 1966) was an Irish politician and businessman.[1] He was a Sinn Féin and later a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta Dála (TD) for various constituencies in Dublin and County Mayo and developed widespread business interests.

Political career

McGrath was born in Dublin in 1887. By 1916 he was working with his brother George at Craig Gardiner & Co, a firm of accountants in Dawson Street, Dublin. He worked with Michael Collins, a part-time fellow clerk and the two struck up a friendship. In his spare time McGrath worked as secretary for the Volunteer Dependents' Fund.[2]

He soon joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He fought in Marrowbone Lane in the 1916 Easter Rising. McGrath was arrested after the rising, and jailed in Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton prisons in England. In the 1918 general election, he was elected as Sinn Féin TD for the Dublin St James's constituency, later sitting in the First Dáil.[3] He was also a member of the Irish Republican Army, the guerrilla army of the Irish Republic, and successfully organised many bank robberies during the Irish war of Independence (1919–1921), where a small percentage of the proceeds was retained as a reward by him and his fellow-soldiers.[4] During this time he was interred briefly at Ballykinlar Internment Camp. He escaped by dressing in army uniform and walking out of the gate with soldiers going on leave. He was eventually recaptured and spent time in jail in Belfast.[5]

In October 1921 McGrath travelled with the Irish Treaty delegation to London as one of Michael Collins' personal staff. When the Provisional Government of Ireland was set up in January 1922, McGrath was appointed as Minister for Labour.

In the Irish Civil War of 1922–1923, he took the pro-treaty side and was made Director of Intelligence, replacing Liam Tobin. In a strongly worded letter, written in red ink, McGrath warned Collins not to take his last, ill-fated trip to Cork.[2]

He was later put in charge of the police Intelligence service of the new Irish Free State, the Criminal Investigation Department or CID. It was modelled on the London Metropolitan Police department of the same name, but was accused of the torture and killing of a number of republican (anti-treaty) prisoners during the civil war. It was disbanded at the war's end; the official reason given was that it was unnecessary for a police force in peacetime. McGrath went on to serve as Minister for Labour in the Second Dáil and the Provisional Government of Ireland. He also served in the 1st and 2nd Executive Councils holding the Industry and Commerce portfolio.

McGrath resigned from office in April 1924 because of dissatisfaction with the government's attitude to the Army Mutiny officers and as he said himself,

government by a clique and by the officialdom of the old regime.

By this he meant that former IRA fighters were being overlooked and that the Republican goals on all Ireland had been sidelined.[6] McGrath and eight other TDs who had resigned from Cumann na nGaedheal then resigned their seats to contest by-elections, running as the National Party. However, Cumann na nGaedheal won seven of these and Sinn Féin won the other two.

Business interests

Following his political career he went on to become involved in the building trade. In 1925 he became labour adviser to Siemens-Schuckert, German contractors for the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric scheme near Limerick. McGrath founded the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstake in 1930, and the success of its sweepstakes made him an extremely wealthy man. He used his IRA connections to promote the lottery worldwide, mostly in jurisdictions where it was illegal. He was criticised for dubious business practices, such as finding ticket holders who had drawn a horse and offering them a fraction of its value. There were also accusations that the trefoil of a winning ticket would sometimes simply disappear, and the excuse given that customs had seized it; these were never successfully proven. He had other extensive and successful business interests always investing in Ireland and became Ireland's best-known racehorse owner and breeder, winning the Epsom Derby with Arctic Prince in 1951.

McGrath died at his home, Cabinteely House, in Dublin in March 1966.


  1. "Mr. Joseph McGrath". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  2. 1 2 James Alexander Mackay, Michael Collins: a life, Mainstream Publishing, 1996
  3. "Joseph McGrath". Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  4. Coleman, Marie (2009). The Irish Sweep: a History of the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake, 1930–87. Dublin: University College Dublin Press. ISBN 978-1-906359-40-9.
  5. "John Riordan, Waterford (Military Archives of Ireland, BMH, WS 1355)" (PDF). Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  6. "Dáil Éireann – Volume 6". Dáil Debates. 3 April 1924. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
Political offices
Preceded by
Constance Markievicz
Minister for Labour
Succeeded by
Patrick Hogan
Preceded by
Ernest Blythe
Minister for Industry and Commerce
Succeeded by
Patrick McGilligan
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