Anti-Treaty IRA general Liam Lynch a victim of ‘crude’ revisionism, commemoration hears

Prominent republican was a reluctant participant in the Civil War as evidenced by his willingness to agree a truce in the battle for Limerick, says historian

The portrayal of general Liam Lynch as “a diehard republican” who prolonged the Irish Civil War is inaccurate and fails to recognise that it was political failings that led to the conflict, an historian and author on the period has told a commemoration to mark the centenary of Lynch’s death.

Dr Tim Horgan told a centenary event, organised by the General Liam Lynch National Commemoration Committee and the General Liam Lynch Society, that like many who had fought for an Irish Republic, Lynch, who died at the age of just 30, has been mispresented and marginalised since his death.

Addressing a crowd of over 1,000 at the Republican Plot at Kilcrumper in Fermoy, where Lynch lies buried after being mortally wounded in the Knockmealdown Mountains on April 10th 1923, Dr Horgan said Lynch suffered the same fate as the United Irishmen in that his memory was attacked.

“The acceptable history would be rewritten and revised to suit the political requirements of the day. Official heroes would emerge. We would be told that Michael Collins and De Valera had freed Ireland, a country that had shrunken to but 26 counties but don’t mention this.


“The pair had a falling out and commanded the two sides in a civil war. This then led to two political parties who conveniently ignored the unfinished task which both leaders had originally espoused,” said Dr Horgan whose grandmother, Madge Clifford, was Lynch’s secretary.

He said that for such to pass as history, Lynch, who was born in Anglesboro in Co Limerick in 1892 but led the Cork No 2 IRA Brigade in the fight against the British, “would have to be nudged into the margins, he would be conveniently dispatched into the national amnesia”.

Author of Fighting for the Cause: Kerry’s Republican Fighters, Dr Horgan, an ophthalmologist based in Tralee, then challenged the charge often levelled at Lynch that he was an obdurate figure on the anti-Treaty IRA side whose unwillingness to compromise led to and prolonged the Civil War.

“If he could not be placed in history’s dustbin, if Liam Lynch was too great to be quickly forgotten, then he would be revised out of the State’s story. We would be told that he was a man of war, an enemy of peace, a die-hard republican who brought Ireland to civil war.

“Such a crude characterisation might be convenient for some and might rhyme with political requirements but the truth we know is elsewhere – it was the failure of politicians that brought civil war – when that conflict did begin, it was started by those who complied with Britain’s orders.”

Dr Horgan said that, unlike his adversaries on the Free State side, Lynch was “an unwilling participant” and he instanced his approach in Limerick in July 1922 when despite having a military advantage, he brought about a peace agreement to halt the fighting as he felt too many had died. But days later, he said, the Free State broke the truce.

“It is the accepted narrative that the Civil War dragged on through the winter and into the spring of 1923 because of Liam Lynch’s refusal to halt the war. But for the Free State government, the fighting was not the real problem, the republicans were.”

Dr Horgan said Lynch was a man of principle and “surrender Liam Lynch could not, for he was bound to a cause to which he and his comrades, living and dead, had pledged their lives. To surrender would have been to recant, to renounce those principles,” he added.

Earlier, welcoming Dr Horgan, chairwoman of the General Liam Lynch National Commemoration Committee, Cllr Deirdre O’Brien explained the committee was originally set up by Lynch’s comrades in the Fermoy Company of the Fermoy Battalion of the Cork No 2 IRA Brigade.

“The attendance by many veteran comrades who had to live with the consequences of the Civil War and the many descendants of local volunteers of the Cork No 2 Brigade showed the recognition and high esteem they held for General Liam Lynch by returning to the commemoration year after year,” she said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times