Charles William St John Burgess was born in Dublin in 1874. In 1899 he joined the Gaelic League and adopted the Irish version of his name, Cathal Brugha. In 1913 he was made a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers and fought during the Easter Rising of 1916. He was severely wounded during the fighting but survived.

In the years following the Rising, Brugha became a member of the Sinn Féin executive. He organized the amalgamation of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army into the Irish Republican Army and became IRA Chief of Staff in October 1917.

Brugha was elected a Sinn Féin MP for County Waterford in the 1918. On the 7 January 1922, Brugha voted against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He attempted to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders from taking up arms against the Free State. As dissidents occupied the Four Courts, he called on them to abandon their position. When they refused, Brugha ordered the occupation of the area around O’Connell Street to support them.

By the 7th July 1922 most of the anti-Treaty fighters had escaped. Brugha was left in a lane behind the Gresham Hotel. In the shootout that ensued, Cathal Brugha was shot and killed. He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.