Cathal Brugha (Formerly Charles William St. John Burgess) (1874-1922) President of Dáil Éireann was born on 18 July 1874 at 13 Richmond Avenue, Dublin, one of fourteen children born to Thomas Burgess (1827-1899), an importer of works of art, and wife Marianne Flynn. He was educated at Colmcille school and at Belvedere College (1888-90). In 1909 he became a partner in the Lalor brothers’ company, which provided altar candles for churches. Influenced by the Irish-Ireland movement, he changed his name to Cathal Brugha.
Brugha joined the Keating branch of the Gaelic League in 1906. The branch was often in conflict with Patrick Pearse and the Gaelic League executive, culminating in an extraordinary Ard Fheis on 9 June 1908. Brugha became president of the branch on 30 October 1909. The separatist attitude of the branch became more pronounced as Brugha was also a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and the Easter Rising was planned from its headquarters at 46 Parnell Square, Dublin.
Brugha joined the Irish Volunteers on their foundation in 1913, and was in charge of the advance party of volunteers at Howth on 26 July 1914, during the Howth gun-running. When the Easter Rising broke out on 24 April 1916 Brugha acted as vice-commandant of the 4th battalion of the Dublin Brigade at the south Dublin Union. Having fought bravely and suffered wounds, he was treated in several hospitals. He was discharged soon after hearing that the internment order on him had been revoked on 23 August.
Brugha was resolved to fight on for the Irish Republic, and he encouraged the first moves to revive the volunteers at the end of 196. He was opposed to the restoration of the IRB, and began to deeply distrust the secret organisation he was once a part of. He played a central role in the reshaping of nationalist politics following 1916, aligning himself with Count Plunkett and his stand for the ideals of the Easter Rising.
After a nationalist convention at the Mansion House on 19 April 1917, Brugha served on various committees and paved the way for the Sinn Féin convention on 25-26 September 1917. He was largely responsible for article two of the constitution, which aimed at securing international recognition of an independent Irish Republic. Eamon De Valera was elected president, and Brugha was elected to the executive with 688 votes, a number exceeded only by Eoin Mac Neill.
At the Volunteer convention on 27 October de Valera was appointed president of the national executive, and Brugha was elected as chairman of the resident executive. He presided over the meeting which elected Richard Mulcahy chief of staff in 1918, and he himself made plans to execute the British cabinet during the conscription crisis. In the election of December 1918 he was elected as Sinn Féin member for Waterford.
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 April 1919, when de Valera took his place. In de Valera’s ministry Brugha was appointed minister for defence. He brought the army under the control of the Dáil by successfully proposing, on 20 August 1919, that the volunteers should take an oath of allegiance to Dáil Éireann. This was an important step in making the volunteers the Irish Republican Army.
Brugha co-operated with Mulcahy, chief of staff, during the war of independence, but both before and after the treaty negotiations, which began on 11 October 1921, serious differences appeared. The influence of the IRB in the army was central to this antipathy, as well as Brugha’s strong and mutual dislike for Michael Collins. Matters came to a head at a cabinet meeting on 25 November 1921, when Brugha reconfirmed the general headquarters staff in their positions, but secured the resolution that ‘the supreme body directing the army is the Cabinet’.
Throughout the peace negotiations Brugha participated regularly in cabinet meetings. When faced by the British articles of agreement on 3 December 1921, he agree with de Valera that the terms should be rejected and that the policy of ‘external association’ should be reaffirmed. After the signing of the articles by Griffith and Collins on 6 December Brugha spoke and voted against the treaty but was among the minority of three to four in cabinet on 8 December, and of fifty seven to sixty four in Dáil Éireann on 7 January 1922. In the new ministry of Griffith, he was replaced as minister of defence by Mulcahy on 9 January 1922.
Acute differences between Michael Collins and Brugha arose throughout the treaty debates. The origin of these difficulties lay in the decision of Collins to sustain the IRB as a parallel organisation to Dáil Éireann, with inevitable conflicts over the lawful chain of command and of allegiance to the Dáil. However, Brugha’s bitter speech on 7 January 1922 against Collins was provoked particularly by an editorial in the Freeman’s Journal of 5 January. This editorial recommended a vote for the treaty and for Collins, the man who had won the war and who had £10,000 on his head. Brugha strongly denied the primacy of Collin in the conduct of the war (Collin’s vital role in the war, especially in the Dublin area and in the intelligence department is undisputed by the vast majority of historians). The severity of Brugha’s attack was inspired, in large part, by his belief that British influences were using the popularity of Collins to undermine the anti-treaty position in the days before the vote on the treaty.
Brugha campaigned strongly against the treaty, once it had been passed, but attempted to preserve unity, even in the army, by securing a republican dimension in the Free State constitution. With this intention he supported the pact on 20 May between de Valera and Collins, but its rejection by Collins, after pressure from Lloyd George, led to a divisive election on 16 June 1922.
Although Brugha was re-elected for his constituency, redrawn as Waterford and Tipperary East since 1921, the anti-treaty side had a minority of seats, thirty six to fifty eight. Brugha still worked for unity, and it was only after the Free State forces had attacked the Four Courts on 28 June, that he reported back for active duty in the army. He was wounded in an action at the Granville Hotel, near O’Connell Street, Dublin, and died in the Mater hospital on 7 July 1922.