Cathal Goulding bigraphy, stories - Officials

Cathal Goulding : biography

2 January 1923 - 26 December 1998

Cathal Goulding (2 January 1923 – 26 December 1998) was Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and the Official IRA.

One of seven children born into a republican family in East Arran Street in the north inner city of Dublin, Goulding was involved as teenager in Fianna Éireann, the IRA youth wing which he joined with his neighbour and lifelong friend & Half-brother (following an illicit relationship between Stephen Behan and Goulding's mother) Brendan Behan. In 1939, when Goulding reached the age of seventeen he joined the IRA.Hanley and Miller, p. 2 In December of that year, he took part in a raid on Irish Army ammunition stores in Phoenix Park, Dublin; and in November 1941 he was gaoled for a year in Mountjoy Prison for membership of an unlawful organisation and possession of IRA documents. On his release in 1942, he was immediately interned at the Curragh Camp, where he remained until 1944.Hanley and Miller, p. 2

In 1945, he was involved in the attempts to reestablish the IRA which had been almost decimated as a result of the action of the authorities in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He was among twenty-five to thirty men who met at O'Neill's pub, Pearse Street, to try to re-establish the IRA in Dublin. He organised the first national meeting of IRA activists after the Second World War in Dublin in 1946 and was arrested along with John Joe McGirl and ten others and was sentenced to twelve months in prison when the gathering was raided by the Garda Síochána.

Upon his release in 1947, Goulding organised IRA training camps in the Wicklow Mountains and took charge of the IRA's Dublin Brigade in 1951.Hanley and Miller, p. 3 In 1953, Goulding (along with Seán Mac Stíofáin and Manus Canning) was involved in an arms raid on a British Army Officers Training Corps base at Felstead, Essex. The three were sentenced to eight years' imprisonment, but were released in 1959 after serving only six years at Pentonville, Wakefield and Stafford prisons.Hanley and Miller, p. 8 During his time in Wakefield prison, he befriended EOKA members and Klaus Fuchs, a German-born spy who had passed information about the US nuclear programme to the Soviet Union, and became interested in the Russian Revolution.Hanley and Miller, p. 10 In 1959, Goulding was appointed IRA Quartermaster General and in 1962 he succeeded Ruairí Ó Brádaigh as IRA Chief of Staff. In February 1966, together with Sean Garland, he was arrested for possession of a revolver and ammunition. In total, Goulding spent sixteen years of his life in British and Irish jails.

Goulding was instrumental in moving the IRA to the left in the 1960s.J. Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army, 1979, Irish Academy Press; Robert W. White, Ruairi O Bradaigh: The Life and Politics of An Irish Revolutionary, Indiana University Press, 2006. He argued against the policy of abstentionism and developed a Marxist analysis of The Troubles. He believed the British state deliberately divided the Irish working class on sectarian grounds in order to exploit them and keep them from uniting and overthrowing their bourgeois oppressors. This analysis was rejected by those who later went on to form the Provisional IRA after the 1969 IRA split.

Goulding remained chief of staff of what became known as the Official IRA until 1972. Although the Official IRA, like the Provisional IRA, carried out an armed campaign, Goulding argued that such action ultimately divided the Irish working class. After public revulsion regarding the shooting of William Best, a British soldier, who was also a Catholic native of Derry City, and the bombing of the Aldershot barracks, the Official IRA announced a ceasefire in 1972.

Goulding was prominent in the various stages of Official Sinn Féin's development into the Workers' Party. He was also involved in the anti-amendment campaign in opposition to the introduction of a constitutional ban on abortion along with his partner Dr. Moira Woods. However, in 1992 he objected to the political reforms proposed by party leader Proinsias De Rossa and remained in the Workers' Party after the formation of Democratic Left. He regarded the Democratic Left as having compromised socialism in the pursuit of political office."Workers' Party braces itself for another painful schism", Irish Times, 4 January 1992

In his latter years Goulding spent much of his time at his cottage in Raheenleigh near Myshall, County Carlow. He died of cancer in his native Dublin and was survived by three sons and a daughter. He was cremated and his ashes scattered, at his directive, at the site known as "the Nine Stones" on the slopes of Mount Leinster.


  • Hanley, Brian, and Millar, Scott (2009). The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party. Dublin: Penguin Ireland.
  • T. E. Utley, The Lessons of Ulster (1975) (Friends of the Union, 1997)
  • The Workers' Party, "Cathal Goulding: Thinker, Socialist, Republican, Revolutionary, 1923–1998", (1999).
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