Liam O Loinsigh – Liam Lynch
By Óglaigh Na HÉireann
Jeremiah and Mary Lynch (née Kelly) had seven children: John (Seán), Jeremiah, Margaret, Martin, Liam, James and Thomas. At the time of writing Thomas (‘Tom’), to whom the letters are addressed, was a clerical student at St. Patrick’s College, Thurles, until he was ordained to the priesthood on 11 June 1922. He was afterwards Very Reverend Dean Lynch, P.P. of Bega, New South Wales, and died in a Sydney hospital on 28 March 1950. Martin, frequently referred to in the letters, joined the Christian Brothers and took the name Brother Placidus. He died in 1964.
Liam was born on 9 November 1893, five miles north of Mitchelstown, in the townland of Barnagurraha, near Anglesboro in county Limerick. He was baptised William Fanaghan Lynch. In 1910, when he was seventeen years old, he entered upon a term of three years’
apprenticeship to the hardware trade with Mr. P. O’Neill of Baldwin Street, Mitchelstown.
He joined the Mitchelstown Company of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. Having completed his term of apprenticeship in 1913, he remained at O’Neill’s for a further year. In the autumn of 1915, he transferred to Messrs. J. Barry & Sons, Ltd., Patrick Street, Fermoy,
where he continued to be employed until he took up whole-time active service with the Army.
During the War of Independence he commanded the Cork No. 2 Brigade of the I.R.A. He was captured on 12 August 1920, but not being recognized he was released by the British troops. In March 1921 he was appointed to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican
Brotherhood. Appointed Divisional Commandant, 1st Southern Division, on 26 April 1921, he was an influential figure in the War of Independence. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty but worked to avoid a split in the Army and the nationalist movement in general. Appointed Chief of Staff in April 1922 at the Army Convention outlawed by the Provisional Government, he escaped following the attack on the Four Courts and returned to the south.
There he re-assumed command of the 1st Southern Division of the I.R.A. or ‘Irregulars’, the largest command, being one-quarter of the total force. Arriving in Mallow on 29 June he also announced his resumption as Chief of Staff of the I.R.A. In July/ August 1922 he directed that the I.R.A. should break up into small active service units of ‘flying columns’ in order to operate more effectively against the Provisional Government’s troops. He was a member of the Army Council which hoped to negotiate terms of peace that would not bring the country ‘within the Empire’. Following the killing of Seán Hales, T.D. on 7 December 1922 and the wounding of Deputy Speaker Padraic O’Máille, the Government instituted a round of executions of Republican prisoners. Lynch called on Republicans in arms not to surrender, but over the next two months, more of his battalion were captured by Government forces. Despite the hopelessness of his position he attempted to carry on the fight. A meeting of the I.R.A.
Executive was called to consider the new situation, as by now both Eamon de Valera and Frank Aiken favoured coming to terms with the Free State Government. Accompanied by Aiken, Lynch travelled to Cork to attend the meeting, stopping at a hideout owned by the
Phelan brothers in the townland of Poulacappal, county Tipperary on the way. On the morning of 10 April, the day of the meeting, he was shot and fatally wounded in a skirmish with Free State troops at Crohan West on the slopes of the Knockmealdown Mountains. He died later that night in Clonmel. His death signalled the end of hostilities in the Civil War, as his successor, Frank Aiken, called a unilateral cease-fire on 30 April 1923.
On 7 April 1935, on the spot where Liam Lynch fell, a 60-foot high round tower surrounded by four bronze wolfhounds, was unveiled in his memory. Built with the volunteer labour of many of his old friends and comrades, it replaced the simple wooden cross that had stood
there for many years. A crowd estimated at fifteen thousand gathered that day to honour a man who had given his life in the cause of Irish freedom.
The letters were acquired by the National Library of Ireland from a niece of Liam Lynch, Mrs Peggy Lyne (née Lynch) in May 2001 (Accession No. 5760). Her father, Séan Lynch, received them from his brother, Fr. Tom, who brought them back from Australia
in the 1940s.
The letters were used by Florence O’Donoghue in his biography of Lynch entitled No Other Law: The Story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916-1923 (Dublin: Irish
Press Ltd, 1954). The letters were also referred to by Meda Ryan in her book Liam Lynch −the real chief (Cork: Mercier Press, 1986), and in Joe Walsh’s booklet The Story of Liam Lynch (Cork: Lee Press, 1973) produced on the fiftieth anniversary of Lynch’s death.
Note: all the letters are addressed to ‘Tom’, unless otherwise stated.
General Liam Lynch – Chief of Staff – Irish Republican Army.
22 July 1921.
Written from: Address torn away.
Signed: ‘L. L’.
‘Sorry I had not the pleasure of meeting Br. Placidus or Austin when at home . . . I expect you little dreamt that No 2 was in same military quarters as 1 & 3 . . . our fellows are suffering terrible agony by the hunger-strike but I believe they will win through. I could nearly wish that they would leave the Lord Mayor die, his death now would be worth a thousand later.’ (Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney, arrested on 19 August 1920 died in prison on 25 October after 74 days on hunger-strike). wrote to you − sometime about March − I did indeed think it would be the last as enemy were continually dogging me & often close on my trail . . . I am living only to bring the dreams of my dead comrades to reality & every hour of my life is now entirely devoted to same . . . Too bad I missed Tom the other day . . . If Placidus is calling home I will strain every point to just call as I could get back with Tom, even though Truce is on we are still at high pressure. Through the war I have got to understand so much of the human being that when peace comes I would wish for nothing more that (sic) hide myself away from all the people that know me or even follow my dead comrades.’ ‘Glad so far that I was not the cause of getting the old home destroyed by reprissals’. (Liam was appointed Divisional Commandant, 1st Southern Division, on 26 April 1921. He then commanded nine brigades, comprising more than 30,000 officers and men. The Truce came unto effect on 11 July 1921.)
12 Dec 1921.
Written from: Dublin.
The Supreme Council of the I.R.B., of which Liam was a member, met on 10 December 1921 and issued a note to divisional and county centres stating its decision that the peace treaty should be ratified. ‘Members of the Organisation, however, who have to take public action as representatives are given freedom of action in the matter’. In his letter of 12 December to Tom Liam gives his reaction to the decision: Assures Tom that ‘my attitude is now as always, to fight on for the recognition of the Republic. Even if I were to stand alone I will not voluntarily accept being part of British Empire. What ever will happen here on this week of destiny we must & will show an united front Thank God that we all can agree to differ. Minority of the Dail will stand by majority no matter what side, the same will apply to the army. It is only natural on such a big issue that there would be difference of opinion, the President has a fair backing of T.D.s but at the moment though I am almost certain of the issue I do not wish to state same. All my Division hold the one view & that strongly too, several other southern areas I know already are with us in this view. If the Government accept Treaty we shall not but strike for final victory at most favourable opportunity . . . Even if we must temporarily accept the treaty there is scarcely another lap to freedom & we certainly will knock her off next time. Speeches and fine talk do not go far these days, we have had already too much gas. What we want is a definite line of action . . . Sorry I must agree to differ with Collins, that does not make us worse friends. If the war is to be resumed he will again surely play his part as before, & that better than some of the Irish Diehards.’
6 July 1923.
To: Fr. Thomas Lynch (‘A Athair a Chara’).
Written on headed paper: ‘Óglaigh na h-Éireann (Irish Republican Army) General Headquarters Dublin.’ .
Signed: ‘Frank Aiken. Chief of Staff’.
Letter from Frank Aiken outlining the circumstances of Liam’s death on 10 April 1923, when he was shot by Government troops on the slopes of the Knockmealdown mountains. “The fight took place on a mountain as bare as a billiard table. Sean Hyde had him by the hand helping him along when he was hit . . . To leave him was the hardest thing any of us ever had to do. I was last leaving, having been carrying his feet. I was afraid to even say ‘Good-bye Liam’ least it would dishearten him . . . Liam’s death was a great blow to our chances of success, coming at the time it did. But they . . . [the press] . . . are quite wrong if they think they have heard the last of the I.R.A. & the Irish Republic. Although we have dumped our arms, we have not surrendered & there are several thousand men women & boys in Ireland yet, who believe it their duty to free our country & to see that Liam & the rest of our dead comrades have not died in vain.”
Liam Lynch – Chief of Staff I.R.A. – Killed in Action on the 10 April 1923 – Rest in Peace.