Liam Lynch (Irish republican)

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Liam Lynch
General Liam Lynch.jpg
Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army
In office
26 March 1922 – 18 June 1922
Succeeded byJoe McKelvey
In office
29 June 1922 – 10 April 1923
Succeeded byFrank Aiken
Personal details
Born(1892-11-20)20 November 1892
Baurnagurrahy, Anglesboro, County Limerick, Ireland
Died10 April 1923(1923-04-10) (aged 30)
Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland
Military service
Allegiance Irish Republic
Branch/serviceIrish Republican Army
Years of service1917–1923
CommandsOfficer Commanding, 2nd Cork Brigade, Irish Republican Army, 1919 – April 1921
Commander, First Southern Division, Irish Republican Army, April 1921 – March 1922
Chief of Staff, Irish Republican Army, March 1922 – April 1923
Battles/warsIrish War of Independence
Irish Civil War 

Liam Lynch (Irish: Liam Ó Loingsigh; 20 November 1892 – 10 April 1923) was an officer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence of 1919-1921. During much of the Irish Civil War, he was chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army. On 10 April 1923, Lynch was killed whilst trying to escape an encirclement by Free State troops in south Tipperary.

Early life[edit]

Lynch was born in the townland of Baurnagurrahy, Anglesboro, County Limerick, near Mitchelstown, County Cork, on 20 November 1892.[1] His father was Jeremiah Lynch and his mother was Mary Lynch (née Kelly), both of whom are buried in Brigown graveyard, Mitchelstown. During his first twelve years of schooling he attended Anglesboro National School.[citation needed] Lynch was living with his parents in Baurnagurrahy for the 1901 and 1911 censuses.[2][3]

In 1909, at the age of 17, he started an apprenticeship in O'Neill's hardware shop in Mitchelstown, where he joined the Gaelic League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Later he worked at Barry's Timber Yard in Fermoy. In the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising, he witnessed David and Thomas Kent of Bawnard House being taken through Fermoy after their arrest by the Royal Irish Constabulary. After this, he determined to dedicate his life to Irish republicanism.[4] In 1917 he was elected First Lieutenant of the Irish Volunteer Company, based in Fermoy.[5]

War of Independence[edit]

In Cork, Lynch reorganised the Irish Volunteers—the paramilitary organisation that became the Irish Republican Army (IRA)—in 1919, becoming commandant of the Cork No. 2 Brigade of the IRA during the guerrilla Anglo-Irish War. He helped capture a senior British officer, General Cuthbert Lucas, in June 1920, shooting a Colonel Danford in the incident. Lucas later escaped while being held by IRA men in County Clare. Lynch was captured, together with the other officers of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, in a British raid on Cork City Hall in August 1920.

Terence McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, was among those captured; he later died on hunger strike in protest at his detention. Lynch, however, gave a false name and was released three days later. In the meantime, the British had killed two other innocent men named Lynch, whom they had confused with him. Having "made himself a leader out of force of his own convictions ... possessed by a sense of mission and by revolutionary ardour",[6] Lynch believed independence could only be "hewed" by the army.[citation needed]

In September 1920, Lynch, along with Ernie O'Malley, commanded a force that took the British Army barracks at Mallow. The arms in the barracks were seized and the building partially burnt. Before the end of 1920, Lynch's brigade had successfully ambushed British troops on two other occasions. Lynch's guerrilla campaign continued into early 1921, with some successes such as the ambush and killing of 13 British soldiers near Millstreet.

In April 1921, the IRA was reorganised into divisions based on regions. Lynch's reputation was such that he was made commander of the 1st Southern Division. From April 1921 until the Truce that ended the war in July 1921, Lynch's command was put under increasing pressure by the deployment of more British troops into the area and the British use of small mobile units to counter IRA guerrilla tactics. Lynch was no longer in command of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, for he had to travel in secret to each of the nine IRA Brigades in Munster. By the time of the Truce, the IRA under Liam Lynch was increasingly hard-pressed and short of arms and ammunition. He, therefore, welcomed the Truce as a respite but expected the war to continue after it ended.

Civil War[edit]

The War of Independence ended formally with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty between the Irish negotiating team and the British government in December 1921. Lynch was opposed to the Treaty, on the grounds that it disestablished the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 in favour of Dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire.

Lynch, however, did not want a split in the republican movement and hoped to reach a compromise with those who supported the Treaty ("Free Staters") by the publication of a republican constitution for the new Irish Free State. But the British would not accept this, as the Treaty had only just been signed and ratified, leading to a deeper split in IRA ranks. Lynch did his best to reunite a divided IRA and continued to hold discussions with the opposing side for a number of months.[7] Both he and Michael Collins were on the IRB Supreme Council and neither wanted to see a civil war.[8]

Lynch, who commanded by far the largest area of any divisional commander, was elected temporary chief of staff by the Republican Military Council in March. His appointment as chief of staff of the anti-treaty forces was confirmed on 9 April by the Executive appointed at the army convention of 26 March.[9]

He did not participate in the seizure of the Four Courts in Dublin by a group of hardline republicans in April 1922, but remained chief of staff. However, at the Third Army Convention on 18 June, following the defeat of a proposal he opposed — to restart hostilities with the British — a diehard faction broke away from his leadership and set up a new GHQ at the Four Courts.[10] This rift was being healed by the time its garrison was attacked by the newly formed National Army on 28 June, which marked the beginning of the Irish Civil War.

Lynch was arrested by the Free State forces but was allowed to leave Dublin by Eoin O'Duffy. Later his party, which included Liam Deasy, was stopped by a Free State patrol in County Kilkenny and spent some time with enemy officers. A Free State publication stated that he had been released on the understanding that he disavowed the approach of the 'Irregulars'.[11] O'Duffy was adamant that Lynch had assured him that he would not take up arms against the government.[12] For his part, Lynch issued a vehement denial of any such undertaking having been given,[13] in which regard he was supported by Deasy and Florrie O'Donoghue.[14][15]

With the bombardment of the Four Courts, Lynch resumed the position of Chief of Staff of the Anti-Treaty IRA on 29 June.[16] He began organising resistance elsewhere. On 1 July 1922 IRA forces occupied portions of Limerick city. At this time Lynch also sent a note to the leader of the Free State forces to discuss the possibility of a truce.[17]

Lynch wished to establish a "Munster Republic", which he believed would frustrate the creation of the Free State. This "Munster Republic" would be defended by the "Waterford-Limerick Line". From south-east to north-west, this consisted of the city of Waterford, the towns of Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Fethard, Cashel, Golden, and Tipperary, and ended at the city of Limerick, where Lynch established his headquarters. He led Limerick's defence, but it fell to Free State troops on 20 July 1922.[18]

He retreated further south and set up his new headquarters at Fermoy. The "Munster Republic" collapsed in August, when Free State troops landed by sea in Cork and Kerry. Cork City was taken on 8 August and Lynch abandoned Fermoy the next day. The Anti-Treaty forces then dispersed and pursued guerrilla tactics. His counterpart Michael Collins was killed in an ambush at Béal na mBláth, Cork on 22 August, a week after the death of Arthur Griffith.

Lynch contributed to the growing bitterness of the war by issuing what were known as the "orders of frightfulness" against the Provisional Government on 30 November 1922. This general order sanctioned the killing of Free State TDs (members of parliament) and senators, as well as certain judges and newspaper editors, in reprisal for the Free State's killing of captured republicans. The first republican prisoners to be put to death were four captured IRA men on 14 November 1922, followed by the execution of republican leader Erskine Childers on 17 November.

These orders were acted upon by IRA men, who killed TD Sean Hales and wounded another TD outside the Dáil on 7 December 1922. In response, the Free State shot four republican leaders, Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey the next day. This led to a cycle of atrocities on both sides, including the Free State official execution of 77 republican prisoners and "unofficial" killing of roughly 150 other captured republicans. Lynch's men, for their part, launched a concerted campaign against the homes of Free State members of parliament.

Among the acts they carried out were the burning of the house of TD Seán McGarry, resulting in the death of his seven-year-old son, the murder of Free State minister Kevin O'Higgins' elderly father and the burning of the O'Higgins' family homestead at Stradbally in early 1923. Lynch wrote to Éamon de Valera that "Free State supporters are traitors and deserve the latter's stark fate".[19]

Lynch was heavily criticised by some republicans, notably O'Malley, for his failure to coordinate their war effort and for letting the conflict peter out into inconclusive and defensive guerrilla warfare.[20] Other IRA volunteers felt that while Lynch was a decent man, he had failed to organise and lead the anti-treaty forces properly and did not possess the mind-set of a revolutionary to strike early for a swift victory.[21]

Lynch was scathing of the Dáil and the old IRA GHQ for having abandoned the people in the North, "particularly in Belfast".[22]

In March 1923, the Anti-Treaty IRA Army Executive met in a remote location in the Nire Valley. Several members of the executive proposed ending the civil war; however, Lynch opposed them and narrowly carried a 6–5 vote to continue the war. He had been trying to import mountain artillery from Germany in a vain attempt to turn the tide of the war.[19] When killed, he was carrying documents that appeared to call for the end of the war.[19]


On 10 April 1923, a National Army unit was seen approaching Lynch's secret headquarters in the Knockmealdown Mountains. Lynch was in possession of important papers that he knew had to not fall into enemy hands, so he and his six comrades attempted to evade them. To their shock, they ran into another unit of 50 National Army soldiers approaching from the opposite direction. Lynch was shortly afterwards hit by rifle fire from the road at the foot of the hill. Knowing the value of the papers they carried, he ordered his men, including soon-to-be chief of staff Frank Aiken, to leave him behind.[23] When the National Army soldiers reached Lynch they initially believed him to be Éamon de Valera, but he informed them – "I am Liam Lynch, Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army. Get me a priest and doctor. I'm dying."[24][25] His last wish was to be buried next to his comrade, Michael Fitzgerald.[26] In late 1920, Fitzgerald had died after a 67-day hunger strike. Lynch was carried on an improvised stretcher manufactured from guns to "Nugent's" pub in Newcastle at the foot of the mountains and was later brought to the hospital in Clonmel, where he died that evening at 8 pm. He was buried two days later at Kilcrumper Cemetery, near Fermoy, County Cork.[27]


According to historian Tom Mahon, the Irish Civil War was "effectively ended" by the shot that killed Liam Lynch. Twenty days later, his successor, Frank Aiken, gave the order to cease military operations.[28]

On 7 April 1935, 12 years later, the Fianna Fáil Government of Éamon de Valera erected a 60-foot-high (18 m) round tower monument on the spot (52°15′6.43″N 7°51′26.16″W / 52.2517861°N 7.8572667°W / 52.2517861; -7.8572667) where Lynch was thought to have fallen in the Knockmealdown Mountains. The Irish Defence Forces barracks at Kilworth, County Cork, is named Camp Ó Loingsigh after Liam Lynch.[citation needed]

The bloodied tunic worn by Lynch on the day he was shot is on permanent display at the National Museum at Collins Barracks in Dublin. The Good Friday Agreement, which ended The Troubles in Northern Ireland, was signed on 10 April 1998, the 75th anniversary of Lynch's death.[29]


  1. ^ "General Registrar's Office" (PDF). Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  2. ^ "National Archives: Census of Ireland 1901". Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  3. ^ "National Archives: Census of Ireland 1911". Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  4. ^ National Graves Association, "Liam Lynch- Life"
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 April 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Peter Hart, IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923 (Oxford, 1998), p. 205
  7. ^ Irish Times, 5 May 1922
  8. ^ Lorcan Collins, Ireland's War of Independence 1919-1921 (The O'Brien Press, Dublin, 2019), p. 250 ISBN 978-1-84717-950-0
  9. ^ Ernie O'Malley, The Singing Flame (1978), pp. 64–65
  10. ^ O'Malley, The Singing Flame, pp. 68–83
  11. ^ 'The Honour of the Irregulars. Release of Mr Liam Lynch.' An Saorstát THE FREE STATE, no. 2, vol. 1, 8 July 1922
  12. ^ Calton Younger, Ireland's Civil War (1970), p. 337
  13. ^ Cork Examiner, 12 July 1922
  14. ^ Liam Deasy, Brother against Brother (1998), pp. 48–51, 73
  15. ^ Florence O'Donoghue, No Other Law: The Story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916-1923 (1954), p. 259
  16. ^ Ernie O'Malley et al. (2007), "No Surrender Here!" The Civil War Papers of Ernie O'Malley 1922–1924 (Dublin), p. 32
  17. ^ Kathleen Thorne, Echoes of Their Footsteps, The Irish Civil War 1922-1924 (Generation Organization, Newberg, OR, 2014), p. 8, ISBN 978-0-692-245-13-2
  18. ^ Thorne, p. 21.
  19. ^ a b c Liam Lynch is killed,, 11 April 2017.
  20. ^ O'Malley, The Singing Flame, p. 171
  21. ^ Uinseann Mac Eoin, Survivors (1980), pp. 24, 98–99
  22. ^ Jim McDermott, Northern Divisions: The Old IRA and the Belfast Pogroms, 1920-22 (BTP Publications, Belfast, 2001), p. 264. ISBN 1-900960-11-7
  23. ^ The Wild Geese "Liam Lynch: Victim of the Irish Civil War" Archived 1 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine (2001),; accessed 11 May 2017.
  24. ^ Ryan, Meda (1986). Liam Lynch: the real chief. Mercier Press. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-85342-764-3. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  25. ^ O'Donoghue, Florence (1954). No other law: the story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916–1923. Irish Press. p. 305. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  26. ^ Thorne, p. 197
  27. ^ Thorne, p. 197.
  28. ^ Tom Mahon & James J. Gillogly, Decoding the IRA, Mercier Press, 2008, p. 66.
  29. ^ "BBC - History - the Good Friday Agreement".


  • Hopkinson, M., Green against Green, the Irish Civil War (Dublin, 1988)
  • Walsh, P.V., The Irish Civil War 1922–23 – A Study of the Conventional Phase
  • Ryan, Meda, The Real Chief: The Story of Liam Lynch (Cork, 1986)
  • O'Donoghue, Florence, No Other Law: The Story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916–1923 (Dublin, 1954 and 1986)
  • O'Farrell, P., Who's Who in the Irish War of Independence & Civil War
  • Borgonovo, J., The Battle for Cork, July–August 1922

External links[edit]