Oration delivered at Liam Lynch Commemoration, 21/07/2019

It is an incredible honour to have been invited by the National Liam Lynch Commemoration Committee to speak before you today. In his resistance to British rule in Ireland, General Liam Lynch has left an important legacy for all the Irish people, a revolutionary career that displayed great dedication, idealism and heroism.

Republicans of every generation have paid tribute to him on this spot since the bitter Civil War, or rather, what I prefer to call the Counter-Revolution of 1922-23. It is right and fitting that we continue to pay tribute and honour a giant of the Republican movement such as Liam Lynch. 

In 1935, before a crowd of thousands, Lynch's former comrade, Maurice Twomey, unveiled the tower dedicated to Liam Lynch that we stand in the shadow of today.
Twomey had served alongside Lynch in the ranks of Óglaigh na hÉireann during the days of the Tan War and was later on his staff, during the Civil War.

By 1935, Twomey himself had risen to Chief-of-Staff of the IRA, and was then on the run from the police of the Twenty-Six Counties. It was very fitting that Twomey would invoke the memory of his dead leader in his own defiance of the Free State authorities that day. 

As Lynch's memory has remained important to Republicans since 1923, so too, did Lynch in his own time revere those who previously fought for Irish freedom. Growing up in the townland of Anglesboro, Co. Limerick, Lynch was reared on tales of Irish resistance to British rule. His uncle John had taken part in the Fenian Rising of 1867, and his mother Mary had been involved in the local Ladies Land League.

Working as an apprentice shop assistant in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, it was here Lynch first became active in the Volunteers. Like many of that generation, he was influenced by the events of Easter Week 1916. Liam had unique proximity to events when he witnessed the arrest of Thomas Kent and his brothers as they were led through Fermoy town.

In 1917, the Fermoy company of the Volunteers was organised, and Liam was elected the first lieutenant. His loyalty to the Republic was clear from an early date; in a letter to his brother Tom that year, he famously wrote: ‘We have declared for an Irish republic and we will not live under another other law.’

Liam would soon work for the Republic full-time, temporarily delaying his marriage to his fiancée, Bridie Keyes, whose love and loyalty inspired him to his final days.

Liam’s great organisational abilities throughout Cork County and his natural ability to inspire his men from this point would see him ascend to the position of commander of the North Cork Brigade by the Tan War.

Liam’s tactical brilliance was matched, too, by his physical courage in the field, having been wounded while commanding a group of Volunteers during the Fermoy raid of September 1919.

He also personally led a group of his officers during the dramatic capture of British Brigader-General Lucas in 1920. Liam’s capacity for natural leadership was a frequent source of inspiration to those under his command.

By the end of the Tan War, Lynch had become commander of the newly formed First Southern Division of the IRA, along with a place on the IRB Supreme Council; Lynch was by then the most influential officer outside the Dublin GHQ.

Given he was a committed soldier of the Republic, it is not surprising he opposed the Treaty of December 1921. Lynch, in a letter to his brother Tom at that time, explained his position: ‘First of all I must assure you that my attitude is now as always, to fight on for recognition of the Republic. Even I were to stand alone, I will not voluntarily accept being part of the British Empire.’

The IRA Convention of March 1922, would see Liam, at last, ascend to the rank of Chief-of-Staff, showing the great esteem he was held in amongst the Volunteers of the IRA.

Despite commanding this great revolutionary army, it is a testament to Lynch's character that his overriding concern was peace between the pro- and anti-Treaty forces. This even led to a temporary disagreement within the IRA Executive and in recognition of their disagreement over tactics, and a mark of his integrity, Lynch temporarily stepped aside as Chief-of-Staff in early June 1922.

But make no mistake, as admirable as his efforts for unity were, Lynch was not found wanting when conflict ignited between Republicans and Free Staters.

Again, he would demonstrate his extraordinary leadership qualities and courage in these last few months of his life. With the attack on the IRA Executive headquarters at the Four Courts, Liam immediately resumed his position as IRA Chief-of-Staff. He ordered that Volunteers defend the Republican-controlled barracks and territory in the south, later referred to as the 'Munster Republic'.

He refused to be discouraged with Republican territorial losses through July and into early August. Instead, he ordered the IRA units to return to the guerilla tactics which they had mastered so well in the Tan War period.

The execution policy enforced by the Free State from October onwards greatly shocked Lynch and all Republicans, disheartening all the Volunteers greatly fighting in the field.

While Republican military success was very limited by early 1923, Lynch still refused to yield in the face of a Free State onslaught, hoping Republicans could still seize the advantage.

Even as late as the IRA Executive meeting in April, Lynch continued to seek a new military initiative for the IRA, whether a renewed campaign in Britain or the acquisition of heavy artillery from the European continent.

On his way to the next meeting of the Executive on the 10th April 1923, Lynch and his comrades were spotted by a Free State search party on this open plain. The mortal wound he received from a bullet by a Free State soldier ensured this great soldier of the Irish Republic would suffer an agonising death into his final hours.

Imploring his comrades to leave him, the dying Lynch was left here on this mountainside until he was found by the Free State party, led by a lieutenant Lawrence Clancy.

Reading the account of his last hours, I am struck by Liam's lack of bitterness. Lynch found a kinship with Clancy who tended to him, the latter telling Lynch he had two brothers who killed during the Tan War.

Lynch and Clancy then both began to cry, clasping each other hands as Lynch lamented: ‘Poor Ireland! All this is a pity. It never should have happened.’

It fits his final request to Clancy was to be buried in Fermoy beside his late comrade of the Cork IRA, Michael Fitzgerald, who died on hunger strike in 1920.

It is notable that not long after Liam's death the IRA military resistance to the Free State ended with the 'dump arms' order issued by his successor as Chief-of-Staff, Frank Aiken.

The end of this phase of Republican resistance would see the Republic repressed, the Country partitioned into two states, along with a lasting legacy of bitterness amongst the Irish people. Like those Republicans who tried to pick up the pieces after the counter-revolution of 1922-23, we too, today still suffer the effects, Ireland is still partitioned and the Republic unfulfilled. 

In living memory, there has been great sacrifice and heroism. Names like Máire Drumm, Bobby Sands or Mairead Farrell inspire us as much as Liam Lynch and his comrades. So too, must we never forget the anonymous, ordinary Irishmen and women who covertly assisted the volunteers and activists, who put themselves on the frontline for the Republic.

Like the difficult years after the Civil War, Republicans, whether in different political groupings or working independently, like myself, continue to struggle to agree on a path forward.

I favour an independent Federal Ireland, promoted by the great Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí O'Connaill in the Éire Nua proposals, first presented in the early 1970s. The federal model is one, which concentrates powers in all citizens of an independent, democratic-socialist Republic, and one which I firmly believe is a basis for enduring peace in this Country, giving the whole people of Ireland a real stake in the future.

With the focus now more than ever on the national question due to Brexit and the conundrum of the British-imposed border in Ireland, I believe a federal solution for Ireland has never been more relevant.
However, before any of our visions for the future can become a reality, we must work to secure a British Intent to withdraw from our country. Then and only then will the Irish nation and its people have true peace with the freedom and space to re-establish the Republic hard-fought and won by our Republican predecessors, the Republic which so many including Liam Lynch died for, in the hope that future generations would live and prosper in it.

Given our firm belief in a united, independent Ireland, let no-one tell you that Republicans don't support the idea of peace in Ireland. Peace is a central tenant of our principles. To be sure, peace means not the absence of regular occurrences of physical force violence, but the implementation of national, social, and economic rights for all people in Ireland. None of these rights exist for the people of Ireland, so, I ask you: How can anyone describe the current situation in Ireland as peaceful?

In the six counties, what we see today is institutionalised sectarianism, which has now seemingly finally ground the flawed workings of Stormont to a halt, ordinary  Republican activists are harassed continually by the renamed RUC with house raids and stop & searches a daily occurrence, that is something you won’t hear on the news.

Here, in the twenty-six counties, ordinary Irish people see little of the benefits of the supposed economic recovery, and the escalating housing crisis threatens the happiness and well-being of younger generations and those to come.

Yet, even within these troubled times, Republicans find difficulty to organise. The sole word of a single Garda superintendent can send you to prison on charges of IRA membership. Evidence of supposed IRA membership can include owning a book on Irish politics or having a picture on your phone of a dead IRA Volunteer.

The Special Criminal Court, a non-Jury Diplock Court, is a conveyor belt of injustice, railroading Republicans into prison on scant evidence, sometimes for several years. The situation in the North is not better, there only a thin veil of justice prevails, accused and their lawyers are denied key evidence by British MI5 if such evidence does indeed exist.

Often if made available, the evidence is incredibly weak and contradictory. The Craigavon 2 is just one example of an ongoing miscarriage of justice happening in the Six counties. If you don’t know much about the Craigavon 2 case, I invite you to look it up, I am confident that you, too, will agree that these two men have been framed in the most obvious fashion, it is a throwback to the days of the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6, and they tell us those days are over!

And yet, perhaps it is too easy to despair in these times. When we recall the life of the extraordinary man, we have gathered to remember today, we are reminded of the importance of the ideals for which he fought. How much the Republic is something worth fighting for, something that can improve the lives of all Irish people. Liam Lynch believed in the All-Ireland Republic proclaimed at Easter week 1916. This belief echoed in his heart from his early days listening to tales of the Fenians to his final hours lying on this lonely mountainside.

For me, this belief in the Republic can be summed up in that great sentiment

'An Phoblacht Abu'


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