Cathal Brugha (1874–1922), born Charles William St John Burgess, was the son of Thomas Burgess and his wife Maryanne (née Flynn). Educated at Belvedere College, he became deeply involved in the Gaelic League, where he met Kathleen Kingston at an Irish language class. Married in 1912, they had five daughters and one son. Kathleen would later hold her husband’s Dáil seat in Waterford for a time. He joined the Volunteers in 1913 and fought as Vice Commandant to Eamonn Ceannt in the 1916 Rising, where he was seriously wounded. Recovered, he in 1917 organised the different groups that had fought in 1916 into the Irish Republican Army. President of the First Dáil from its inaugural meeting in January 1919 until April, when he handed over to Éamon de Valera, he then took on the role of Minister for Defence to manage the War of Independence.
Director of the company he had founded, Brugha was essentially a private person, with a dislike for politics, a strong passion for what was right and a deep suspicion of the British Empire’s policy of divide-and-conquer.
When the First Dáil set up a Government in January 1919, he insisted that the Irish Republican Brotherhood be disbanded. Many left, others stayed, refusing to be answerable to the Dáil, leading to differences between him and Michael Collins, Head of the IRB. Brugha refused appointment to the Irish delegation to London in 1921, partly because he preferred to leave the negotiations to de Valera, but also because he believed the British were negotiating because they were losing the war. During the Dáil debates, he argued strongly against the Treaty but accepted the result when it was passed. His final words were, ‘So far as I am concerned, I will see, at any rate, that discipline is kept in the army’.
When a minority of anti-Treaty officers occupied the Four Courts in a challenge to the new Free State Government, he appealed to them to desist, and when the Civil War started, endeavoured to protect the republican troops from attack. His final act was to demonstrate the horror and stupidity of a divisive civil war by allowing himself to be hit in action on 5 July, refusing to surrender, and died a few days later.
Author: Cathal Brugha
Sources: DIB: James Quinn; O’Farrell (2018).
The following was from the commemoration of the First Dáil, where Cathal Brugha chaired the first meeting (Ceann Comhairle), and was elected the First President (the next day), handing over to DeValera a few months later.
The Funeral of Mr Cathal Bruga, T.D.
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