Fuair sé bás ar son Saoirse na hÉireann.
Twas England bade our wild geese go, that ‘small nations might be free’;
Their lonely graves are by Suvla’s waves or the fringe of the great North Sea.
Oh, had they died by Pearse’s side or fought with Cathal Brugha
Their graves we’d keep where the Fenians sleep, ‘neath the shroud of the foggy dew…
Born in Fairview, Dublin and educated at Belvedere College, he was a co-founder of a candle making business. A talented footballer, hurler, boxer and linguist, Brugha was Vice-Commandant 4th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers at South Dublin Union under Eamonn Ceannt. Wounded and crippled during the Rising by a hand grenade, as well as by multiple gunshot wounds, and was originally not considered likely to survive.
In October 1917 he became Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and held that post until March 1919. He became a TD and was Minister for Defence in the two Sinn Féin Dáils from April 1919 to January 1922. Brugha was elected President of the Republic when the Dáil met in 1919 but resigned the position in favour of Éamon de Valera. Brugha was reportedly the only person outside of the Rising leaders who had a copy of the insurrection plans.
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. He then approached the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver in each hand. He sustained a bullet wound to the leg by a sniper’s bullet from the Findlater’s building. Linda Kearns witnessed the wounding of Cathal Brugha, who had refused to surrender to the forces of the new state. She held his severed artery between her fingers as he was driven to hospital, but he would die two days later. He died on 7 July 1922, just 11 days before his 48th birthday. Cumann na mBan activists stood guard over Brugha when his body lay in state.
His wife, Caitlín, and son Ruairí both served as TDs after his death. His son, Ruairí Brugha (1917–2006), later became a Fianna Fáil politician and was elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1973 General Election.