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Cathal Brugha

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Cathal Brugha

Aged 36 at the time of the Census 1911

Census 1911 address: 36, Cabra Road (Glasnevin, Dublin)1

The 1911 Census return for Cathal Brugha (36) recorded him living in Glasnevin and working as a commercial traveller. Also in the house were Madeline Brugha (41) and Ada Brugha (35). There is also a young child, Eibhlín ní Dhochartaigh, who was aged 3.

Born Charles William St. John Burgess in Dublin in 1874, to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, Brugha was the tenth of fourteen children. His father Thomas was a cabinet maker and art dealer who was disinherited when he married Brugha’s mother Maryanne Flynn. 

Brugha was a keen sportsman who excelled in boxing, swimming, cycling and other sports. He was a teetotaller and didn’t smoke. He changed his name in 1899 to Cathal Brugha when he joined the Gaelic League. He met his wife Kathleen Kingston at an Irish class in 1909 and they married in 1912. They had six children, five girls and one boy. He founded a church candle-making business with two brothers, Anthony and Vincent Lalor, and became a director and travelling salesman, which gave him the opportunity to recruit contacts into the Volunteers. Brugha became actively involved in the IRB and the Irish Volunteers. He led a group of Volunteers to Howth in 1914 to receive the smuggled arms from the yacht 'The Asgard'. He was not a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB but was privy to the plans for the rebellion in the weeks before the event. During Easter week Brugha was second in command to Éamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union garrison.

According to Joseph Doolan “In the glorious roll-call of Easter Week few names stand out so prominently as that of Cathal Brugha. So unassuming and gentle, yet so daring, his part in the fight during that memorable week singles him out as one of the noblest heroes of our own time, and an equal to any of Ireland's long list of heroes, not excluding the Signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic2”. He took his place at the head of his men leading them into action in the south Dublin Union on Monday, 24th April 1916. Each night of the week Ceannt and Brugha called all the men together, gave a short account of what had happened during the day, rosary was recited and prayers said, and all retired for the night. ”From Monday to Thursday he was at every point of danger, ever warning his men to be cautious, though heedless of his own personal safety. He seemed indeed to be possessed of a charmed life, bullets almost touching him, yet leaving him unscathed. Night and day he was on the alert, often startling one of the sentries in the dead of night, by his unexpected noiseless approach2”. The garrison came under very heavy attack on Thursday 27th April with close quarters fighting taking place.  Brugha led a charge towards a British which inspired many of the men. He was badly wounded by a hand grenade and although he was alone he managed to hold British forces at bay, and taunted them with cowardice.

Ceannt went to rescue him, “When Ceannt and Brugha met, a scene the most touching was enacted. The soldiers' spirit broke. Both men dropped their revolvers. Ceannt went on one knee and put his arm around Brugha. Their conversation was in Irish. What was said,only God knows2.” The men tried to dress his wounds but his situation became dire as time went on. “He had 25 wounds on his body, i.e. 5 dangerous, 9 serious and 11 slight, and that one of the dangerous wounds had an artery cut. His left foot, hip and leg were practically one mass of wounds. His removal to hospital was carried out by a devoted Carmelite priest Father Gerhard with the aid of a Union official under the Red Cross flag2.” He was removed from the garrison under a red-cross flag and while initially brought to the Union hospital where it was feared he would not survive, from there he was brought to Dublin Castle hospital was then taken to various hospitals to recover after which the order for his detention had expired. He walked with a limp, however, the rest of his life.

After the Rising, Brugha was no longer a member of the IRB as he believed the secret nature of the organisation worked against the Irish Volunteers and had caused the failure of the Rising. With the release of the prisoners of the Rising in 1917 the Sinn Féin organisation spread though out the country. Brugha was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for County Waterford in the 1918 General Election. The reorganisation of Sinn Féin was matched by the reorganisation of the Volunteers. Brugha organised an amalgamation of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army into the Irish Republican Army. He became Chief of Staff of this organisation until 1919.   

Simon Donnelly observed that “The General Election in 1918 gave both bodies their chance. The I.R.A. took practically complete control of the running of the Election, such as policing meetings, manning election booths, distributing literature, etc., and numerous other jobs, all in a perfectly organised and disciplined manner; the I.R.A., at this stage, being a well organised military machine. Cumann na mBan also played a big part. The Republican candidates won the day with an overwhelming victor3”.

In 1919 the Sinn Féin party refused to participate in the House of Commons and instead set up their own parliament in the Mansion House in Dublin. “There was no mistaking their policy for the Election, A Republic for all Ireland. This verdict of the Irish people was surely a vindication of the martyrs of Easter Week. As a result of the Election, Dáil Éireann met in the Mansion House, Dublin, and from there issued its now famous Declaration of Independence to the world.

Around this time Field Marshall Lord French replaced Lord Wimborne as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and issued a Proclamation stating that the leaders of Sinn Féin were involved in a German Plot. Most of the Volunteers were arrested except for Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha. In the absence of de Valera and Griffith, Cathal Brugha was elected Acting President and Minister for Defence of the first Dáil. He worked to bring the Volunteers under the control of the Dáil and to counteract the influence of the IRB. The Volunteers were now the standing army of the republic and had the official name of Army of the Irish Republic but they were more popularly known as the Irish Republican Army.

During the War of Independence there was considerable tension between Michael Collins and Brugha. Brugha was Minister for Defence but Collins was Adjutant General Director of Organisation and Director of Intelligence. Collins was also a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB which Brugha did not support. Brugha opposed the oath of allegiance of membership for the IRB and instead proposed Volunteers should swear allegiance to the Irish Republic.

In 1922 Brugha was against the Ango-Irish Treaty, “A fanatical section of Volunteer officers headed by Cathal Brugha, the Minister for Defence, demanded the rejection of the Treaty in the Dáil and this section was supported by de Valera, the President4”.

When the shelling of the Four Courts started the Civil War Brugha reported for duty at the Hammam Hotel on O’Connell Street. On 5th July 1922 he was shot and killed by Free State forces. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His wife Caitlín Brugha was a Sinn Féin TD for Waterford from 1923-1927. His son Ruairí became a Fianna Fáil TD and was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1973. Ruairí Brugha married Máire MacSwiney, daughter of Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in 1920.

Portobello Barracks in Rathmines is now called Cathal Brugha Barracks. Today, Cathal Brugha Barracks is the home of the 2nd Eastern Brigade, the 2nd Infantry Battallion, numerous brigade combat and combat support units, including the Defence Forces School of Music and Military Archives5. It is located beside the Central Statistics Office in Ardee Road.


  2. Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Joseph Doolan pg. 10
  3. Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Simon Donnelly pg. 9
  4. Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Colonel Joseph V. Lawless, pg. 431



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