Would-be medical student, Irish language activist, 1916 rebel: Cathal Brugha's road to the Dáil
Charles William St John Burgess, one of Sinn Féin's leading republicans, intended to study medicine before father’s art dealership failed in 1890 and he took a job as a travelling salesman for a church supplies firm. A committed language enthusiast, he joined the Gaelic League in 1899 and changed his name to 'Cathal Brugha’.
In 1908 he was elected president of the Gaelic League’s influential Keating Branch, and in same year was sworn in to the IRB. A Volunteer officer by 1914, Brugha led the advance column of Volunteers that landed arms at Howth on 26 July and in 1916 was badly wounded in South Dublin Union as vice-commandant to Éamon Ceannt.
In late 1916, still recovering from his wounds, Brugha was central to the reactivation of the Irish Volunteers network. He was elected to Sinn Féin party executive in October 1917 and argued successfully for the adoption of a republican constitution.
Brugha escaped arrest during the German Plot in 1918 and devised a short-lived plot to assassinate British cabinet members if conscription was implemented. Brugha was elected TD for Waterford in December 1918 and in the absence of the imprisoned Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith he was elected acting president (priomh-aire) of the First Dáil in January 1919.