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Charles William St. John Brugha (Burgess)

Also Known As: "Charles William St. John Burgess", "Catal Brugha", "Caṫal Brugha"
Birthplace: Drumcondra, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland
Death: July 07, 1922 (47)
Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland (arterial bleed from gunshot wound in the leg)
Place of Burial: Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Burgess and Maryanne Burgess
Husband of Caitlín (Kingston) Brugha
Father of Nollaig Brugha; Noirin Brugha; Brenda Brugha; Delma Brugha; Private and 1 other
Brother of Edward "Eamon" Burgess; Thomas Burgess; Alfred R Burgess; Pauline Burgess; Eveleen Burgess and 2 others

Occupation: Candlemaker, politician, revolutionary
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Cathal Brugha

Cathal Brugha was an Irish nationalist and revolutionary. He was second in command during the Easter Rising of 1916, where he was first wounded. He served as Chief of Staff for IRA (1917-1919), was the first Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of Dáil Éireann, and was minister of defence until 1922, voting against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Brugha was fatally wounded in the 1922 Civil War.

Cathal Brugha

Born Charles William St. John Burgess, he was an Irish revolutionary and politician, active in the Easter Rising, Irish War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War and was the first Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of Dáil Éireann.

Political activity

In 1899 Brugha joined the Gaelic League and changed his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He met his future wife, Kathleen Kingston, at an Irish class in Birr, County Offaly and they married in 1912. They had six children, five girls and one boy. Brugha became actively involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913 he became a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers. He led a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland in the Howth gun-running of 1914.

He was second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt in the Easter Rising of 1916. During the fighting he was severely wounded by a hand grenade, as well as by multiple gunshot wounds, and was initially not considered likely to survive. He recovered over the next year, but was left with a permanent limp.

War of Independence

Brugha organised an amalgamation of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army into the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He proposed a Republican constitution at the 1917 Sinn Féin convention which was unanimously accepted. In October 1917 he became Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and held that post until March 1919.

He was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 general election. In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. Due to the absence of Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, Brugha presided over the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on 21 January 1919.

He was known for his bitter enmity towards Michael Collins, who, although nominally only the IRA's Director of Intelligence, had far more influence in the organisation as a result of his position as a high ranking member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation that Brugha saw as undermining the power of the Dáil and especially the Ministry for Defence. Brugha opposed the oath of allegiance required for membership of the IRB and in 1919 his proposition that all Volunteers should swear allegiance to the Irish Republic and the Dáil was adopted. At a top-level IRA meeting in August 1920, Brugha argued against ambushes of Crown forces unless there was first a call to surrender, but this was dismissed as unrealistic by the brigade commanders present. Brugha also had the idea of moving the front line of the war to England, but was opposed by Collins.

Civil War

On 7 January 1922, Brugha voted against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During the Treaty Debates, he pointed out that Collins only had a middling rank in the Department for Defence which supervised the IRA, even though Arthur Griffith hailed him as 'the man who had won the war'. It has been argued that, by turning the issue into a vote on Collins' popularity, Brugha swung the majority against his own side; Frank O'Connor, in his biography of Collins, states that 2 delegates who had intended to vote against the Treaty changed sides in sympathy with Collins. He left the Dáil and was replaced as Minister for Defence by Richard Mulcahy. In the months between the Treaty debates and the outbreak of Civil War, Brugha attempted to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders including Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey from taking up arms against the Free State. When the IRA occupied the Four Courts, he and Oscar Traynor called on them to abandon their position. When they refused, Traynor ordered the occupation of the area around O'Connell Street in the hope of easing the pressure on the Four Courts and of forcing the Free State to negotiate. On 28 June 1922, Brugha was appointed commandant of the forces in O'Connell Street. The outbreak of the Irish Civil War ensued in the first week of July when Free State forces commenced shelling of the anti-treaty positions.

Most of the anti-Treaty fighters under Oscar Traynor escaped from O'Connell Street when the buildings they were holding caught fire, leaving Brugha in command of a small rearguard. On 5 July, he ordered his men to surrender, but refused to do so himself. He then approached the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver. He sustained a bullet wound to the leg which 'severed a major artery causing him to bleed to death'. He died on 7 July 1922, 11 days before his 48th birthday. He had been re-elected as an anti-Treaty TD at the 1922 general election but died before the Dáil assembled. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

His wife Caitlín Brugha served as a Sinn Féin TD from 1923–27. His son, Ruairí Brugha later became a Fianna Fáil politician and was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1973 general election. Ruairí married the daughter of Terence MacSwiney, the Republican Lord Mayor of Cork who had died on hunger-strike in 1920.


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Cathal Brugha's Timeline

July 18, 1874
Drumcondra, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland
February 15, 1917
Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
July 7, 1922
Age 47
Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
July 1922
Age 47
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland