Sunday 23 October 2016

The quiet man who united two famous patriot families

Published 04/02/2006 | 00:11

By Senan Molony, Political Correspondent The death of Ruairi Brugha ends one of the few remaining direct lines between Fianna Fail and the War of Independence, while also sundering a remarkable political marriage.

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Mr Brugha, who passed away in hospital at age 88, was a former member of the IRA and a Fianna Fail TD. But his chief association with fame was as the son of Cathal Brugha, the leading military force behind the Irregulars or Anti-Treaty forces, killed at the beginning of the Civil War.

Born in Dublin in October 1917, Ruairi grew up in a house that was often raided, first by police, then British soldiers and Auxiliaries, followed by Free State forces. His father had been a pimpernel figure during the War of Independence and returned on the run following the split over the Treaty.

"Cathal believed the plenipotentiaries should all have been shot in Dun Laoghaire after they got off the boat," said former Workers Party leader Tomas Mac Giolla this week.

"Ruairi grew up in a very awkward position. He got a difficult time from pro-Collins people, and there were people in the De Valera wing who were never happy with his connection afterwards."

Cathal Brugha's death in a shoot-out in O'Connell Street in July 1922, following a break-out from the occupied Four Courts, came when Ruairi was not yet five. Cathal's widow, Caitlin, later claimed a seat in Dail Eireann for the Waterford constituency, but as an abstaining TD did not take it.

Ruairi attended boarding school at Rockwell College as the family's political embroilment continued. On leaving school and returning to Dublin and studies in UCD, he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the IRA.

It was the '40s and Ruairi Brugha was in his early twenties. He was identified as an IRA man - although senior personnel say he never went on any operations or fired a shot in anger - and was interned at the Curragh for the duration of the Emergency, as the Second World War was termed domestically.

In 1945, at the age of 27, Ruairi married a fellow active Republican whose family had been well known to his own for many years. She happened to be Maire MacSwiney, the only child of Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork.

Her father was equally as famous as his - dying in October 1920 in Brixton Jail after a hunger strike of 74 days that captured world headlines. Terence McSwiney had been arrested for making a "seditious" speech, and had vowed to be dead or free within a month.

His example was said by both Ho Chi Minh and Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi to have had a powerful effect on their political formation.

At the time of his death Maire was a toddler, and her mother, Muriel, decided to quit Ireland for Europe in order to put her ordeal behind them. For nine years, Maire grew up in Germany, as the Weimar Republic fell apart around her.

In the early '30s, when she was 14, Maire made a dramatic escape with her aunt home to Ireland, as recounted in her autobiography History's Child,published by the O'Brien Press last year. There followed a court case over alleged childnapping, but Maire remained in Ireland.

Her marriage to Ruairi united two of Ireland's most highly regarded 'patriotic' families. Mr Brugha's most immediate aim was now to find a means of support, and he eventually became managing director of the tailoring and gentlemen's outfitter, Kingstons Ltd.

The couple joined the newly formed Clann na Poblachta party after it was established by Sean MacBride in a new drive towards Republican ideals and ambitions. Ruairi stood for election in the 1948 General Election in his mother's old constituency of Waterford but failed to be elected, despite the party taking 10 seats nationally.

In 1951, the Government fell over the price of milk and Clann na Poblachta was all but wiped out, retaining only two seats. By that stage Ruairi Brugha had become disillusioned with Sean MacBride's anti-Fianna Fail stance. Clann na Poblachta had entered coalition with Fine Gael in the first inter-party Government, which stuck in the craw for many old anti-Treaty people.

After a few years of political pondering, Mr Brugha decided to join Fianna Fail. His credentials already established by his heritage, he was fast-tracked through the organisation and stood for the party in Dublin South in the 1969 General Election. This outing ended without success.

Four years later, however, he did win a seat, defeating his former running mate, Kevin Boland, who was then standing for Aontacht Eireann. Mr Brugha then became Fianna Fail spokesman on Northern Ireland as the party entered opposition to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition of 1973-77.

During that Government, Mr Brugha offered unstinting support to the Cosgrave administration's attempt to set up a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland, based on a model thrashed out at Sunningdale with the British Government.

The initiative, ultimately stifled by the UWC strike of 1974, was years ahead of its time, being essentially a prototype for the Good Friday Agreement a generation later. The bipartisan approach adopted by the two big parties in the South lasted thereafter, as Northern Ireland slipped into a continuing nightmare.

By the time Bertie Ahern entered the Dail in 1977, Ruairi was one of the most respected and experienced members of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, the Taoiseach said in a tribute.

"Ruairi was a man of firm convictions who was passionate about politics and had a deep patriotic concern for the welfare of this country." But for many people his most abiding characteristic was reserve, privacy and even taciturnity.

In that election of 1977, Mr Brugha lost his Dail seat as a new FF breed in the guise of Tom Kitt and Seamus Brennan began to establish their own bastions. He was appointed to the European Parliament as a member of the first Irish parliamentary delegation, but two years later failed to hold his seat in the first direct elections to Strasbourg.

In the '80s, Ruairi Brugha achieved election to the Seanad, where he was seen as a hard-working, keen contributor, particularly on Northern Ireland and European issues. "Ruairi immersed himself in the very noble task of fostering reconciliation and promoting greater North-South understanding," the Taoiseach said. He also played a prominent part in the Irish Association and was an honorary president of the European Movement. He retired from active politics in the '90s and last appeared in public a few months ago when the Taoiseach launched his wife's memoir.

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