Cathal Goulding (1922-1998) was an Irish Republican leader who served as Irish Republican Army (IRA) chief of staff during the 1960s. He later became the leader of the Official IRA.
Goulding was born in East Arran Street, Dublin, and raised in a Catholic family with generations of involvement in Irish Republicanism. Goulding joined the IRA shortly after his 16th birthday, while training as a painter and decorator. In 1940 he was arrested for attempting to steal ammunition and interned in Curragh until 1945. Goulding was arrested for another arms raid in 1953, this time in England. He was arrested alongside Seán Mac Stíofáin, who later split with Goulding to form the Provisional IRA.
Goulding is best remembered for intellectualising and politicising the IRA. During the 1960s he studied left-wing politics and Marxist revolutions, such as the Russian Revolution. Goulding came to embrace a socialist interpretation of the problems in Northern Ireland. He believed that sectarian divisions were encouraged by the capitalist elite, in order to distract and control the working classes. Catholic and Protestant workers, Goulding believed, should unite to struggle against British imperial power.
Under Goulding’s leadership, the IRA prioritised political activism over military action; its focus broadened from anti-British slogans to anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism. This shift alienated some IRA members, such as Mac Stíofáin and Billy McKee, who complained that Goulding talked too much but acted too little. These divisions contributed to the formation of the Provisional IRA in December 1969.
Goulding died from cancer in his native Dublin on Boxing Day 1998.