Liam Lynch - Life
If one asked one hundred people in Limerick or Dublin who was Liam Lynch, one would be lucky if five people answered correctly. Great efforts were made to vilify Liam. Many accused him of acute naivety. The more recent the event the more difficult it is to grasp its full historical significance and implications. The Civil War for instance aroused on both sides strong feelings which influence opinions and make impartial judgement difficult. While this was to be expected from the treacherous government left behind by Collins after his death, so called Republicans also tried to minimise the importance of Liam Lynch.
Liam was born near Anglesboro, co. Limerick, in the town land of Barnagurraha on 9 November 1893. He was the fifth of seven children. Liam was educated in Anglesboro School until he was sixteen. At seventeen Liam took up an apprenticeship with P. O’Neill’s hardware trade. It was during this time that he acquired a great love of reading. His special interest was Irish history. On Fermoy Bridge he witnessed the Kent family being dragged off to prison after the RIC and British army raided their home. While one son died of wounds received in the raid, the other was executed. It was this scene, which prompted Liam Lynch to dedicate his life to the cause of freedom and a thirty-two county Irish Republic.
When the Fermoy Irish Volunteer Company was reformed in 1917, Liam was elected first lieutenant. A shy, retiring type, Liam won the respect and admiration of his men through dedication to the cause, his ability to organise and train men and officers and his meticulous attention to detail when planning an offensive or organising a brigade.
Liam saw the victory of the 1918 election as an endorsement of the people’s rightful claim to a thirty-two county Irish Republic. As the first Dail sat on 21 January 1919, Seamus Robinson, Dan Breen and other Volunteers attacked and secured a cart of gelignite. Two policemen were shot during the raid. The War of Independence had begun. On 6 January 1919, Liam was unanimously elected commandant of the Cork No. 2 Brigade by his fellow officers. Liam took part in many raids and led by example. When not on raids, he travelled throughout Munster, organising, teaching and indeed learning from the experience of others. He planned operations which consisted of men from several brigades. He retrieved most of the money stolen in a bank raid and returned it to the bank. He held the British general Lucas captive for a time in June 1920. This general’s opinion of the volunteer movement would have mirrored that of John Mitchel in a savagely ironic description of the Young Irelanders from a British viewpoint as “a criminal conspiracy to set their country free.” However, Lucas later stated that the officers were well organised and adhered to the highest principles of engagement and treatment of prisoners. He also asserted that its 80,000 strong army would need to be increased to 150,000 if England wanted to achieve victory in Ireland.
Most of the above 80,000 troops were stationed in Munster and by far the greatest resistance came from Liam Lynch and his comrades in that region. On 10 July 1921 a truce was declared. Liam did not allow his men to succumb to apathy. He organised training camps and regular inspections throughout his command. He attended many conferences in the Southern Division and at GHQ in Dublin. So impressed were members of the Dail cabinet that at the end of November they offered him the job of commander in chief of the army. Liam refused the commission on the grounds that he believed that the war would resume and as commander in chief he would not be best placed to conduct a resumption of the struggle.
When the Treaty came, Liam was bitterly disappointed. In the following six months Liam worked flat out to avert civil war. The Treaty went against all he and his comrades had fought for. As the politicians jostled for position and soldiers challenged the opposite side, lines were drawn. The one cool head in this strange cocktail of events was Liam Lynch. Liam never gave up hope of finding a solution and preventing a civil war. When Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson was assassinated in London on Collins’s orders, the latter in order to save face and at the behest of his British masters attacked the Republican garrison in the Four Courts in Dublin – the Civil War had begun.
Liam Lynch was convinced that there was still a chance for peace. If the action ended in Dublin and he could hold back the south, there was a chance. He made his way to Limerick, where soldiers from both sides squared up to each other. Liam managed to convince both Brennan and O’Hannigan that a full conference of commandants should be called to sort things out before any fighting. When an agreement was drawn up to this effect both Collins and Mulcahy overruled this and ordered an attack on the Republican forces. Liam Lynch was now at war with old comrades. The Republican side was not prepared for such a fight and the lack of political backing hampered their efforts. Finally, after a meeting on 25 October 1922 the available Republican deputies met and constituted themselves the Republican government and appointed de Valera as president and Liam Lynch as chief of staff. While de Valera was reluctant, he was also a reluctant choice. De Valera disagreed with the Civil War and when the situation deteriorated in early 1923, de Valera campaigned for a meeting of the executive. Liam Lynch, while reluctant to call such a meeting, finally agreed to one in March. A motion to abandon the armed struggle by Tom Barry was defeated by one vote. On Tuesday, 10 April 1923, Liam Lynch was shot while trying to flee from Free State troops on Crowhill (Knockmealdown Mountains) in co. Tipperary. He died later that day. The Civil War ended a few weeks later.
Liam Lynch was a devout Catholic. He loved God first and his country second. He sacrificed his short adult life for the cause of a thirty-two county Irish Republic. He was very much an honourable soldier. He waged war against the British according to honourable standards and principles of engagement. He maintained these high standards despite the introduction of the Black and Tans. He worked tirelessly to avoid civil war. When civil war came, he returned to the same standards of engagement, in spite of the official Free State murders and unofficial murders and acts of barbarity carried out by Free State officers and men. There was nothing enigmatic about Liam Lynch. He was simply an honourable soldier dedicated to his cause. There was certainly nothing na ve about this free thinker and meticulous planner. His action brought the British government to the negotiating table and sparked the collapse of the British empire in Ireland. While certain Republicans turned politicians endeavoured to minimize his enormous effort for their own political gains, we, of the National Graves Association, can be proud to keep the memory of such a gallant and noble soldier alive. We share with Liam Lynch a reluctance to accept anything short of a thirty-two county Irish Republic as representative of true Irish freedom. “We have declared for an Irish Republic and will not live under any other law” General Liam Lynch
For those who wish to learn more about Liam Lynch, we recommend the following:
Meda Ryan The Real Chief
Florence O’Donoghue No Other Law