Cathal Brugha: ‘An indomitable Spirit’ by Daithí Ó Corráin and Gerard Hanley (Four Courts Press, £19.95/€24.95) IN the prologue, the authors assert that their book is not a biography. So, by those terms, I could argue that this is not a review. But let’s not turn reality on its head, nor indulge them in their self-deprecation because, given the paucity of available material, their “nuanced and multi-layered reappraisal” of Cathal Brugha’s life amounts to as good a biography as one could hope for. They present a sympathetic portrait of Brugha which reassesses his actions and challenges the opinions of his detractors. The authors’ consistent point is that Brugha has been misunderstood. The commonly-held view of him as something of a brute has been decontextualized. They believe he has not been given his due. One of the major reasons for the subsequent denigration of Brugha was his bitter opposition to Michael Collins. What the two had in common was their wish to see Ireland free from British control. To that end, both fought in the Easter Rising and both exhibited undoubted courage. Brugha was severely wounded in the conflict and walked ever after with a limp. He was deeply committed to the republican cause, having taken up arms after years as a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the Irish Volunteers. But Brugha’s modern reputation is built on largely negative interpretations of his post-Rising decisions. The defining moment was a tirade he delivered during the Dáil debate in January 1922 on the Anglo-Irish treaty. He dared to attack the notion that it was Collins who was solely responsible for winning the war against Britain. Instead, he argued that Collins’s military reputation “was no more than a figment of journalistic imagination.” In claiming that Collins did not deserve to have been “made a romantic figure, a mystical figure”, Brugha outraged those who admired the Big Fella’s leading role during the struggle with the Black and Tans. Even some of Brugha’s anti-treaty allies thought his comments counter-productive. A later speech in which he sought to tone down his criticism did not ameliorate the hostility he had generated. Collins and Brugha were very different personalities. The former was brash, liked a drink, smoked, swore and had little time for the church. Brugha, a devout Catholic, was an abstemious non-smoker who, unlike Collins, had an accountant’s attitude towards finances. Their power struggle centred on the control of two military organisations: the IRB, and the Irish Republican Army, the force sanctioned by the Dáil. Collins was both president of the IRB and director of organisation for the IRA. Brugha, nominally Collins’s superior as minister of defence, and opposed to the continuing existence of the “secret” IRB, watched aghast as Collins attempted to assert his influence over the IRA. He felt his ministerial authority was consistently undermined by Collins. As Ó Corráin and Hanley point out, Brugha guessed where this split would lead by writing: “Fighting has now been temporarily stayed, but only temporarily. I believe that, in our time, sooner or later, it will begin again.” This was six months before the outbreak of the civil war.