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Edmund Lynch obituary: A true pioneer and trailblazer for LGBTQ+ rights

Veteran Irish LGBTQ+ activist, archivist, documentary-maker and former RTÉ employee

Born: February 25th, 1947

Died: October 4th, 2023

The death of Edmund Lynch, a veteran Irish LGBTQ+ activist, archivist, documentary-maker and former RTÉ employee, was met with an outpouring of grief and fond remembrance across the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland. Lynch was a founding member of the Sexual Liberation Movement (SLM), and participated in multiple organisations, campaigns, projects and activities that fought for, celebrated and collected the work of LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland.

Lynch grew up on Galtymore Road in Drimnagh, the second eldest of four children. He worked as a sheet metal worker for Dublin Gas Company, before successfully applying for a job in RTÉ in 1968, where he was assigned a role in the television sound department.

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In an interview, Lynch recalled how he learned about the Dublin gay hangouts Bartley Dunne’s and Rice’s from the few gay men he met while working as a sheet metal worker. In the early 1970s, he lived in a flat in Donnybrook, while working at RTÉ's nearby Montrose campus. He suggested guests for items on gay rights across programmes at a time when such people were ostracised from and criminalised within Irish society.

The SLM was formed in October 1973 at a meeting in Building No 5, Front Square, Trinity College attended by Lynch, Ruth Ridderick, Mary Dorcey, Margaret McWilliams, Gerry McNamara, Hugo McManus, Peter Bradley, David Norris, Irene Brady, and Michael Kerrigan. Members of SLM went on to form the Irish Gay Rights Movement.

When the National Gay Federation (NGF, now NXF) was established in 1979, it leased a building in the then under-developed Temple Bar, named the Hirschfeld Centre. Lynch was one person who began to collect and archive documents and press cuttings related to LGBTQ+ people in Ireland. This early work, among that of others, is seen as a precursor to the Irish Queer Archive.

One of Lynch’s passion projects was the vast LGBTQ+ Oral History Project, which he pursued with relentless enthusiasm and persistence. This project features hundreds of LGBTQ+ people in Ireland across all walks of life, detailing their experiences, activisms and politics.

Lynch had a wide network of friends and acquaintances, from his neighbours to former RTÉ colleagues, young queer activists to veteran campaigners, from drag queens to the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and her husband, Martin.

He lived as an out gay man at a time when sexual acts between men were illegal, when harassment from gardaí was not uncommon, and when discrimination, resentment and homophobia against LGBTQ+ people was a social default. He lived through the period when the HIV/AIDS crisis decimated the community. He lived through the nascent gay and lesbian rights movement – and indeed played an important role in it – through the election of his comrade in activism, David Norris, to the Seanad, through decriminalisation, civil partnership, marriage equality, the progress of trans rights, and the splits, schisms, and unity that characterised the movement over decades.

Alongside his LGBTQ+ Oral History Project, he produced and directed the documentary A Different Country, which told the story of what life was like growing up in pre-’93 Ireland, and for which Lynch drew from 168 interviews he had conducted, eventually including 18, which goes some way to understand the fastidiousness of his archival work. The documentary was screened at GAZE International Film Festival Dublin in 2016, and centred people’s experiences at navigating Irish society. Lynch’s goal was to make a series of seven films charting what he categorised as seven overlapping generations or eras of out LGBTQ+ people in Ireland. Lynch paid for this work out of his own pocket. In 2021, he passed a significant milestone, interviewing the 300th person for his archival projects.

His oral history project was only one element of a hugely active retirement. He was a frequent speaker at LGBTQ+ history events, and also delivered an expert workshop in genealogy at the Military History Archives in Dublin in 2019. He spoke at the Provost’s Pride celebration in Trinity College in June 2023. He volunteered for Fáilte Isteach, a community project where mostly older volunteers welcome migrants to Ireland through conversational English classes. He could often be seen in the Irish Film Institute cafe, where he held many of his meetings with friends and prospective interviewees for his oral history project. The CEO of the Irish Film Institute, Ross Keane, said that Lynch was “part of the extended IFI family”. Lynch also hosted his wedding in the IFI. “The IFI foyer has lost a special character,” Keane said.

Four months after he turned 76, he was one of the grand marshals at Dublin Pride in June 2023. Interviewed during the occasion for RTÉ News, he spoke about how trans rights were among the issues still being fought for, saying Pride in 2023 was still a protest.

His parents were the late Daniel and Elizabeth Lynch, his brothers the late Seán and Donal, and he is survived by his husband Martin, his sister Margaret, his brother-in-law Colm, as well as nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. The LGBTQ+ Centre, Outhouse, released a statement on his death, describing Lynch as “a true pioneer and trailblazer”.