Cathal Brugha

Life
1874-1922 [Charles William St John Burgess]; b. 18 July, 13 Richmond Ave., Dublin; ed. Belvedere College; played rugby for Belvedere, Clontarf and Santry; first bowler for Pembroke Cricket Club; left school at 16 [var. 13] when his father’s business failed; swam from Howth Harbour to Ireland’s Eye at 17; worked in church supplies business and later co-founded Lalor Ltd., a candle-manufacturing business; joined Gaelic League, 1899; became fluent in Irish and changed his name to Cathal Brugha in 1910; paid language prizes out of his own salary; pres. of Keating Branch of Gaelic League; m. Kathleen Kingston, of Birr, Co. Offaly, 1912; joined Irish Volunteers, 1913; 2nd-in-Command to Eamon Ceannt at S. Dublin Union, 1916; badly wounded and crippled for life; IRA Chief of Staff, Oct. 1917-April 1919; elected TD for Waterford, [Gen. Election] 1918-22; President of Assembly [first meeting] of Dáil Eireann, 21 Jan. 1919; appt. Minister for Defence, April. 1919-22; continued to direct Lalor Ltd. and refused ministerial salary; successfully promoted Dáil oath obliging all Volunteers to ‘support and defend the Irish Republic and the Government of the Irish Republic, which is Dáil Eireann, against all enemies’, 20 Aug. 1919, with the effect of turning them into the IRA; strongest opponent of Treaty, making a final, uncompromising speech of one and a quarter hours, repudiating the statement that he wanted war; assure deputies that discipline would be maintained in the Army; joined Republican side in Civil War; fatally wounded during suicidally courageous exit from Hamman Hotel in middle O’Connell St. (East), revolver in hand, during second week of Civil War, on 5 July 1922; d. 7 July; Cathal Brugha St., and Cathal Brugha Barracks (Rathmines) are named after him; his son Ruairí (1917-2006) married Máire, dg. of Terence MacSwiney, and repudiated physical force republicanism. DIB DIH

[ top ]

Works
‘Conradh na Gaedilge’, in Irish Year Book (Sinn Féin [1919]), pp.461-69; also preface to Lil Ni Aodha & Breandan O hAodha, comp., Irish without a teacher - Pt. 1: Pronunciation, Dialogues, Grammar, Vocabulary ([Dublin] Muinntir Aodha [n.d.]), 19pp., styled ‘A series of booklets for those who cannot attend Irish classes’, ded. ’Fa choimirce Bhrighde Naomhtha’ [title page] (copy in Trinity College Library as PAM KIr.4 No.28).

[ top ]

Criticism
Oliver Snoddy, ‘Notes on Literature in Irish Dealing with the Fight for Freedom’, Éire-Ireland, 3, 2 (Summer 1968), pp. 138-48; p.141.

[ top ]

Commentary
Eoin Neeson
, The Irish Civil War (Cork: Mercier 1966; rep. 1989), writes of the death of Cathal Brugha, ‘thus fell the first of the giants’ [q.p.]

Roy Bradford, ‘An Assessment’ [first delivered as a lecture to the Irish Association in Belfast, June 1992], in ‘Kevin O’Higgins’, Special Supplement, Fortnight 31 (Jan. 1993): ‘Cathal Brugha rushed out of the Four Courts to his personal gotterdammerung.’

[ top ]

Frank Bouchier-Hayes, See Irishman’s Diary, in The Irish Times (The Irish Times, 18 Aug. 2008): Ernie O’Malley recalled that Cathal’s green tie was ‘the symbol of his nationality in a hostile country’; volatile relationship between Brugha and Michael Collins, who found him ‘strange and oddly remote’ - though Brugha tearfully remarked: ‘Mick is so kind. He thinks of everybody.’ when the other once sent someone to inquire of Brugha about the health of a sick relative; Frank O’Connor described him as ‘the North Pole to Collins’s Equator’, noting that while Collins was prone to fiery displays of anger, Brugha ‘dwelt amid ice-floes and fogs’; Brian O’Higgins, a friend of Brugha, recalled that when Brugha ‘was in the thick of a heated debate or in the middle of a speech in English on a public platform [...] he would reply at once and quite easily and naturally in Irish, without seeming to notice that he had done so’, surmising that ‘the love that was in his heart for the language, and for everything it stood for, kept it for ever uppermost in his thoughts and nearest to his tongue’; aAn Army officer lamented many years later that the soldiers who waited for Brugha were not his former comrades in arms, as such men ‘would have held their fire until his ammunition was exhausted and then taken him’, but young and inexperienced men and such ‘fellows are very quick on the draw’; Collins wept uncontrollably on hearing the news, saying, ‘There was one brave man amongst them’; Eoin MacNeill declared: ‘Cathal Brugha, in all that I ever knew of him, was an honest, honourable, brave and unselfish man. I have no doubt at all that he was a man who in his conscience acknowledged the law to be supreme in everything, and with that in mind gave his whole-hearted allegiance to Ireland, setting his duty to Ireland above life, and all the claims and ties and affections that he found in life.’ (p.13.)

[ top ]

Notes
Ruairí Brugha (1917-2006), his son, told Tim Pat Coogan interview with for The IRA: ‘We became the victims of an illusion that could never become a reality. It was obvious to me that the 26 counties were politically free and that the sort of activity in which the IRA had been engaged had not helped to end Partition’; praised the idealism of former comrades who included ‘some of the best elements in the nation’, but refused to sign the declaration which would have got him out of the Curragh. His wife Máire [née MacSwiney] wrote in History’s Daughter: ‘Maybe he was too idealistic for politics as he never promoted himself. His only interest was in putting the country first.’ (See Obituary of Ruairí Brugha, in The Irish Times, 4 Feb. 2006.)

[ top ]