British files reveal US envoys in plot to deport 'dangerous agitator' after Rising


DIARMUID LYNCH was said to have been the last man to leave the burning GPO during Easter week in 1916. A naturalised US citizen, he was eventually deported in 1918, but the British had long wanted rid of him before the Rising.

Files released by the British National Archives detail a conspiracy involving US diplomats in London to have Lynch deported to the US after embassy officials learned the state department in Washington was preparing to revoke his naturalisation papers.

The file on Lynch, who had left Granig, Kinsale, Co Cork, at 18 for the US, begins a year or so before the Rising, with the British authorities regarding him as “an undesirable” who had come “to unfavourable notice”.

Dublin Castle believed he was a leading anti-recruitment campaigner, but no more dangerous. In reality, however, he was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s military council and was chosen by Pádraig Pearse to identify a location in Kerry for Roger Casement to land arms.

References to his US citizenship abound. In 1915, Lynch was deemed to be an alien of a friendly nation and told to notify police of his movements. He was labelled as an enemy alien in January 1916 and subjected to tighter rules, which he ignored.

“There will probably be an Irish row about it, but nothing to what might be aroused by a deportation order, which, indeed, I don’t think the home secretary would be very ready to make in a case of a British-born person like Lynch, even though he has ceased to be a British subject,” the war office was told.

The British army, however, had wanted him deported long before the Rising, with the war office telling the home office in December 1915 that he was “a dangerous agitator, if nothing worse”. Deportation was “decidedly preferable”, it said.

Following his capture after the Rising, Lynch wrote to the US ambassador in London in October 1916, declaring that he was a prisoner of war “and not a criminal” and that he had “an international right to fight against England”, but the letter was blocked by the prison governor.

Released, Lynch went back to Dublin, where he was soon embroiled in a row with the Dublin Metropolitan Police over his claim that the enemy alien’s order made against him no longer stood because he had been released unconditionally.

Believing that he was about to leave voluntarily for the US, the British authorities did nothing. But Lynch, by now Sinn Féin’s “food controller”, was jailed again in February 1918 after he seized and slaughtered pigs being driven to Dublin’s North Wall for export to England.

In London a US embassy official was soon in touch with the home office to say the state department in Washington was “considering” revoking Lynch’s naturalisation papers because he had been out of the country for so long. The state department had earlier written to the embassy in London seeking details about Lynch in preparation for the withdrawal of his naturalisation. A US embassy official then tipped off the home office that it needed to move quickly if it wanted to deport Lynch.

The US official “thought, however, that we might like first to have a chance of applying for his deportation”, the home office file reported, adding that the US official had agreed to delay a reply to Washington in the meantime.

Within days, a “rather truculent” Lynch was sent to Liverpool docks for deportation, and he became even more annoyed when he learned he had to pay the £10 9s 6d one-way fare.

His bride, Kathleen Mary Quinn, was stopped from travelling with him. Sinn Féin had smuggled her into Dundalk Prison for the wedding, though the British said they were unsure if they had properly wed. The marital status of the couple vexed immigration officers, who believed they could not stop her joining Lynch if they were married. In the end she was prevented from going but joined him in the US afterwards.

In the US, he was elected in absentia to the House of Commons in 1918 and later to the first Dáil. He played a role in influencing the House of Representatives’ call for Ireland to be represented at the Versailles talks.

Five years later, Lynch and his wife returned after a British official in New York, filling in for a sick colleague, failed to spot that he was on the suspects’ list when he applied for a visa to sail. Refused permission to land, he was eventually allowed to travel to Ireland after the Dublin government described him as “a friend of the Irish Free State”.