Joseph McGrath, Irish politician and businessman, dies in Ballsbridge, Dublin, on March 26, 1966. He is a Sinn Féin and later a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta Dála (TD) for various constituencies: Dublin St James’s (1918–1921), Dublin North-West (1921–1923) and Mayo North (1923–1924), and develops widespread business interests.
McGrath is born in Dublin on August 12, 1888. By 1916 he is working with his brother George at Craig Gardiner & Co., a firm of accountants in Dawson Street, Dublin. He works with Michael Collins, a part-time fellow clerk and the two strike up a friendship. In his spare time he works as secretary for the Volunteer Dependents’ Fund.
McGrath soon joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He fights in Marrowbone Lane in the 1916 Easter Rising. He is arrested after the rising, and jailed in Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton prisons in England. In the 1918 Irish general election, he is elected as Sinn Féin TD for the Dublin St. James’s constituency, later sitting in the First Dáil. He is also a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and successfully organises many bank robberies during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921), where a small percentage of the proceeds is retained as a reward by him and his fellow-soldiers. During this time he is interred briefly at Abercorn Barracks but escapes by dressing in army uniform and walking out of the gate with soldiers going on leave. He is eventually recaptured and spends time in jail in Belfast.
In October 1921 McGrath travels with the Irish Treaty delegation to London as one of Michael Collins’ personal staff. When the Provisional Government of Ireland is set up in January 1922, he is appointed Minister for Labour. In the Irish Civil War of 1922–1923, he takes the pro-Treaty side and is made Director of Intelligence, replacing Liam Tobin. In a strongly worded letter, written in red ink, he warns Collins not to take his last, ill-fated trip to County Cork.
McGrath is later put in charge of the police Intelligence service of the new Irish Free State, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). It is modelled on the London Metropolitan Police department of the same name, but is accused of the torture and killing of a number of republican (anti-Treaty) prisoners during the civil war. It is disbanded at the war’s end with the official reason given that it is unnecessary for a police force in peacetime. He goes on to serve as Minister for Labour in the Second Dáil and the Provisional Government of Ireland. He also serves in the 1st and 2nd Executive Councils holding the Industry and Commerce portfolio.
In September 1922 McGrath uses strikebreakers to oppose a strike by Trade Unionists in the Post Office service, despite having threatened to resign in the previous March of the same year when the government threatened to use British strikebreakers.
In December 1922 McGrath is a reluctant supporter of the government’s decision to execute four high profile IRA prisoners: Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett, Rory O’Connor, and Joe McKelvey.
McGrath resigns from office in April 1924 because of dissatisfaction with the government’s attitude to the Army Mutiny officers and as he says himself, “government by a clique and by the officialdom of the old regime.” By this he means that former IRA fighters are being overlooked and that the Republican goals on all Ireland has been sidelined. He and eight other TDs, who had resigned from Cumann na nGaedheal, resign their seats in the Dáil and form a new political party, the National Party. However, the new party does not contest the subsequent by-elections for their old seats. Instead, Cumann na nGaedheal wins seven of the seats and Sinn Féin wins the other two.
In 1927, McGrath takes a libel case against the publishers of The Real Ireland by poet Cyril Bretherton, a book that claims he is responsible for the abduction and murder of Noel Lemass, the brother of Seán Lemass, in June 1923 during the civil war, as well as a subsequent coverup. He wins the court case. During the 1930s, he and Seán Lemass reconcile and regularly play poker together.
Following his political career, McGrath goes on to become involved in the building trade. In 1925 he becomes labour adviser to Siemens-Schuckert, German contractors for the Shannon hydroelectric scheme near Limerick. He founds the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in 1930, and the success of its sweepstakes makes him an extremely wealthy man. He has other extensive and successful business interests always investing in Ireland and becomes Ireland’s best-known racehorse owner and breeder, winning The Derby with Arctic Prince in 1951.
McGrath dies at his home, Cabinteely House, in Ballsbridge, Dublin on March 26, 1966. Cabinteely House is donated to the state in 1986 and the land is developed as a public park. His son, Patrick W. McGrath, inherits many of his father’s business interests, and also serves as Fine Gael Senator from 1973 to 1977.
(Pictured: Screenshot of a film of Irish politician Joseph McGrath shot in 1922)