(Reading time main text: 6 mins.)
On the evening of 7th July, people passing on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main street in the north city centre either stopped a while or passed with a glance at the crowd gather at the intersection with Cathedral Street, a narrow lane leading eastward.
The Irish Tricolour and the Starry Plough flags (both versions1) held aloft gave a strong indication of the purpose of the gathering, which was to honour an Irish patriot shot down at that spot by Free State soldiers on 5th July 1922 and dying on the 7th.
CATHAL BRUGHA RESUMÉ
Cathal Brugha was an Irish Republican, an Irish language activist, a soldier and politician. For a period in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he joined the Irish Volunteers at the outset2 and was a lieutenant in charge of twenty Volunteers to receive with others the arms delivered to Howth Harbour in 1914.
In the 1916 Rising Brugha was second-in-command under Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union, now covered by James’ Hospital, where he received in excess of 25 wounds from bullets and grenade shrapnell and was not expected to live.
Surviving, Brugha was elected a Teachta Dála (member of parliament) for the abstentionist Sinn Féin coalition party in the UK General Election of 1918, serving until his death, first President of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) from January to April 1919, Minister of Defence from 1919 to 1922 and Chief of Staff of the IRA from 1917 to 1919.
Cathal Brugha, along with most Republican activists, was strongly opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921 which was supported by Michael Collins, Arthur Griffiths and others and joined the Republican opposition in the Dáil, resigning his government posts to do so.
However, he and Oscar Traynor of the IRA both opposed the occupation of the Four Courts by IRA under Rory O’Connor but when it was bombarded by the Free State with British artillery on 28th June, Traynor ordered occupation of O’Connell Street buildings to divert some of the heat from the Four Courts.
The Free State Army bombarded the Republican positions in O’Connell Street with artillery and machine guns (as the British Army had done in 1916). Eventually the Republicans retreated apart from a small holding group which Brugha ordered to surrender but did not do so himself.
Approaching Free State soldiers with pistol in hand, he was shot by them in the leg, severing a femoral artery and died two days later in hospital. His widow Kathleen continued the Republican line as an activist and TD.
THE HONOUR CEREMONY
Mags Glennon, chairing the event, thanked people for coming, stressing the importance of remembering our history and listed briefly the important actions of and positions held by Cathal Brugha, before calling on Sean Óg to perform The Soldiers of ‘22,3 the five verses of which he sang, accompanying himself on guitar.
At intervals between speakers Sean Óg performed another two songs, Cathal Brugha and A Soldier’s Life4.
Joe Mooney brought a series of three posters for distribution, which were quickly taken up. These were copies from the period, condemning the Free State Army for the murder of Cathal Brugha, with drawings believed to be by Constance Markievicz.
The main speaker was historian and author Kerron Ó Luain, who began speaking in Irish and returned to it on occasion, though the content of his talk was by far in English.
Ó Luain initially paid his respects to recently-deceased Mícheál Ó Doibhlin, a Dublin historian who had done much historical research to bring further into the light of today the contributions two Republican women in two different periods.
These were Anne Devlin of the United Irishmen (uprisings in 1798 and 1803) and Josephine McGowan, killed in 1918, the first Cumann na mBan martyr5. Ó Doibhlin had also assisted Ó Luain in the latter’s research into the insurrectionary history of his own area, Rath Cúil (Rathcoole)6.
Continuing to relate some brief facts about Brugha’s early life, born into a mixed-religion household, Ó Luain emphasised Brugha’s interest in the Irish language and his membership of the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge)7 in the same decade as its founding.
The speaker contrasted that aspect with the militarist image of Brugha often projected by hostile commentators. Brugha met his future wife at meetings of the Connradh and had been a strong advocate of the proceedings of the First Dáil being conducted mostly in Irish and of the Democratic Programme being first read and agreed in Irish.
The setting up of Sinn Féin to contest the 1918 UK General Elections had involved a coalition of many different elements Ó Luain said, including dual monarchism advocates such as the original founder Griffiths and even white Dominion aspirants, alongside Republicans such as Cathal Brugha.
These had been the lines along with the alliance had fractured when the British proposed the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. British influence on the Free State was seen not only in its war on the Republicans but in the legal system adopted based on common law without any thought given to any of the principles of the native Brehon Law.
The British influence was evident also in the form of dress with some Free State politicians such as Cosgrave wearing a top hat and research has shown over 90% of the civil servants of the Free State had been employed by the previous British colonial administration.
The Free State adopted a formal position of support for An Ghaeilge, the Irish language, while doing nothing to support the struggling rural Irish-speaking areas, which were being drained by emigration, leading the inhabitants to want to acquire English for their future locations.
The number of Irish-speakers within the territory of the State has declined drastically since it was founded.
Unusually for an oration honouring an Irish martyr but very important historically, the speaker pointed out that Brugha was not a socialist Republican and had advocated land ownership whereas other Republicans such as Liam Mellows (executed by the Free State in 1922), Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan in the 1930s had proclaimed the need for a socialist Republic.
In conclusion, the speaker said that Cathal Brugha was an honest courageous Republican with a genuine love of the Irish language and a staunch upholder of the truly independent Republic proclaimed in 1916 but yet to be achieved. He had been killed as part of the counterrevolution.
It is important for future efforts, Ó Luain stated, to be aware of the different strands in the Republican opposition to the status quo and to be clear on the desired future shape of society in the Republic.
OTHER REPUBLICAN MARTYRS OF THE BATTLE FOR DUBLIN 1922
Damien Farrell spoke on behalf of Dublin South Central Remembers and representing the McMenamy family from the area. Frank McMenamy had been asked to introduce the Roll of Honour on behalf of relative Ciaran McMenamy of F Coy, 1st Batt, anti-Treaty IRA (Ambulance Corp) but was unable to attend.
Ciaran was one of four brothers — Fergus, Manus and Francis — who fought in the revolutionary period 1916-23. Ciaran was part of the crew that tended Cathal Brugha and rushed him to hospital on the 5th July. When Brugha succumbed to his wounds, Ciaran was a pall bearer at his funeral.
Damien said that this most likely identified him for arrest which happened later and he was interned in the infamous Newbridge Camp and participated in the mass hunger strike of prisoners in 1923 against conditions.
Ciaran McMenamy contracted a cold that developed into consumption which secured his release to convalesce in the County Home in Kildare but this proved ineffective and Ciaran was eventually released from internment around Christmas 1923.
On the 26th of April 1924 Ciaran McMenamy died in 55 Pearse Square, a house connected to the family. For the past two years Dublin South Central Remembers have held remembrance events at the house, with the full permission and support of the current occupants (no relations) with the intention of having a plaque erected in time for his centenary in 2024.
Fionnuala Halpin read the roll of honour of those killed in The Battle of Dublin 1922, a battle in which her grandfather fought.
Veteran Republican, hunger-striker and author Tommy McKearney placed a wreath in honour of the fallen on behalf of Independent Republicans and a minute’s silence was observed in their honour also.
COMMEMORATE THE CIVIL WAR MARTYRS OF YOUR AREA?
A number of different Republican organisations were represented at the event, along with many independent Republicans and historical memory activists, including walking history tour guides.
Mags Glennon asked people to keep in touch with the organisers and also to be aware of other commemorative events, offering to make available the commemorative posters with the local martyrs’ names incorporated into the design for display for others around the country.
1The original, with the design of plough in gold following the outline of the Ursa Mayor constellation in white stars, on a green background and the later Republican Congress version of the white stars alone on a light blue field.
2Formed in 1913.
3Composed by Brian Ó hUigínn, sung to the air of The Foggy Dew.
4A Soldier’s Life was originally composed by Young Irelander Thomas Davis (1814-1945) and recorded by The Wolfe Tones band; the composer of Cathal Brugha’s lyrics appears unknown and it was recorded by Declan Hunt.
5A rally held by women just off Dame Street in 1918 was batoned by members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and she died of her injuries shortly afterwards. I have heard Ó Doibhlin relate her story and saw him becoming emotional as he did so. The DMP’s batons in September 1913 were also responsible for the deaths of at least three others, although one died in 1915.
6For a number of recent years Ó Doiblin has been noted, along with historian Liz Gillis and others, for research and exposition of information regarding the Burning of the Customs House on 25th May 1921, which corrected a number of common misapprehensions about that event.
7Founded by Protestant Douglas Hyde/ Dubhghlas de hÍde this month in 1893.
The Independent Republicans group do not appear to have a website or FB page but may be contacted through the Cabra 1916-1921 Rising Committee: https://www.facebook.com/cabra1916
The National Graves Association: https://www.facebook.com/NationalGravesAssociation