Royal Irish Academy

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Caitlin Brugha/ Kathleen Kingston 1879-1959

Kathleen Kingston was born in Birr in 1879. Her parents William and Catherine Kingston were members of the town’s Catholic middle class. William Kingston was a prominent merchant in Birr. Kathleen’s brother Charles served for a long period as secretary to the county council until the rise of Sinn Fein. Another brother John was a Holy Ghost Father, and a sister Nora served as mother superior to the Sacred Heart convent in Armagh.

It is possible that Kathleen saw O’Donovan Rossa unveil the Manchester Martyrs monument beside the family home in 1893.

An activist in the Gaelic League, it was there that she first met Cathal Brugha in 1909. The couple married in 1912 and went on to have 6 children.

Already a member of the IRB, Cathal joined the Irish Volunteers on their formation in 1913. A member of the 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade, he served under Eamonn Ceannt during Easter Week. 

Ceannt’s wife Aine lodged at the Brugha home as a guest of the pregnant Caitlin throughout Easter Rising. Ruairi Mac Diarmada Brugha was born later that year and named after Roger Casement and Sean Mac Diarmada.

Cathal was severely wounded while fighting in the South Dublin Union and required extensive surgery. As a result, he managed to avoid count marital and possible execution. He was discharged in August 1916, he returned home to be nursed by Caitlin. Although still effected by his wounds he quickly resumed republican activities. Caitlin was herself hospitalised in 1918 while pregnant, suffering from the Spanish Influenza which claimed millions of lives across the globe in the aftermath of the Great War.

Elected as TD for Waterford, Cathal Brugha oversaw the first meeting of Dáil Eireann in January 1919 and served as minister of defence in the republican cabinet. During the War of Independence his working relationship with Michael Collins with whom he had previously been on good terms deteriorated. After raids on the family home in October 1920, Caitlin and the children remanded in Waterford and Kerry until the truce.

Always skeptical of negotiations with the British, Cathal Brugha was among the most vocal opponents of the Treaty during Dail debates and was shot dead during the Battle for Dublin in the opening stages of the Civil War in July 1922. His death drew tributes from both sides of the conflict, including Michael Collins, Eoin MacNeill, and Harry Boland.

Caitlin wrote…

Cathal’s death is the deepest sorrow God could have given me yet is my consolation to know that he died for Ireland. May God send us that freedom for which he died & may his example keep our people from selling our beloved country into slavery’. (1)

She issued a statement in the republican press requesting that no member of the pro-treaty administration attend his funeral and that the guard of honour be provided by the ‘women of the republican movement.

In 1923 she was elected as Sinn Féin TD for Waterford and served as an abstentionist until 1927. Having broken with de Valera on the issue of abstentionism in 1926, she rejected what she saw as attempts by Fianna Fail governments to co-opt the memory of her husband during the 1930s.

With the help of her family, she established the well-known menswear shop Kingston’s on O’Connell Street. During the 1940s her son Ruari and daughter Norrin were active republicans. With IRA networks dismantled and most of its operators interned, Caitlin Brugha and a small informal group of women became important links in what remained of the republican organisation, and she took part in sheltering Günther Schütz, a German spy sent to by Ireland by the Abwehr intelligence agency.

Her son Ruari married Marie MacSweeney, the daughter of Terence MacSweeney and served was a Fianna Fail TD and MEP.

Caitlin Brugha passed away in 1959 and she was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.

The Author wishes to acknowledge the existing work by historians on the life of Caitlin Brugha in particular Daithí Ó Corráin & Gerard Hanley


Sources:

(1) Mary McCauliffe ‘Remembering Caitlin Brugha TD for Waterford, 1923-1927.

Online at marymcauliffe.blog

Daithí Ó Corráin & Gerard Hanley. Cathal Brugha: An Indomitable Spirit. (Dublin) 2022.

James Quinn RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography profile of Cathal Brugha online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/brugha-cathal-a1077

Patrick Maume. RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography profile of Ruari Brugha online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/brugha-ruairi-a9412

Irish Press. 13 December 1939. 27 December 1939. 12 September 1944. 1 September 1945. 5 February 1979.

Irish Independent. 14 September 1944. 2 December 1959.

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