Liam Lynch was a key figure in the Irish War of Independence and the civil war that followed.

Buried in the Republican Plot in Kicrumper Old Cemetery, he rests along side fallen comrades: Michael Fitzgerald (Fermoy) Daniel Shinnick (Castletownroche), Michael Rouse (Ballindangan) and Denis O’Brien (Kilworth).

This year’s commemoration was held on Sunday last with a good sized crowd in attendance. Key note speaker was, Dr Martin Mansergh, a former Fianna Fail senator and TD for Tipperary South.

Dr Mansergh spoke about the revolutionary times that Liam Lynch and his comrades lived, their idealism and commitment to severing a centuries old link between Ireland and Britain. He also dealt with the revolutionary tradition, dating back to 1798, that inspired Liam Lynch and others in the nationalist movement – their primary motivation was to plot an independent course for the people of Ireland.

Lynch’s steadfast devotion to the Republic proclaimed in Easter Week 1916 meant he was unable to countenance the Anglo Irish Treaty that divided the country – this was a tragic development that had far reaching consequences for the island of Ireland, Dr Mansergh said.

He went on to detail the role of Fianna Fail in helping to bring about agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland and he acknowledged the part played by all those who had put aside political differences in pursuit of a lasting peace in Ireland.

Despite being very windy, it remained dry for the duration of the ceremony which also included wreath laying, reciting a decade of the rosary in Irish and the playing of the National Anthem. A resourceful and loyal committee, those who oversee the commemoration are to be commended for their role in maintaining the Republican Plot to such a high standard and for honouring the lives of Liam Lynch and all those who gave their lives in pursuit of an independent Ireland.



Today’s solemn commemoration of General Liam Lynch and his comrades is one of the most important annual occasions to reflect on the history and spirit of Irish Republicanism, especially in this centenary year of the Easter Rising, but also to consider the challenges that face us today and that we know will lie ahead. Liam Lynch became, if only briefly, the embodiment of the Republican ideal, a successor of Pádraic Pearse, and was the recognized leader of the Republican Anti-Treaty side during the civil war, to whom even de Valera had to defer.

I would like to thank the organizing committee, in particular Paul Lillis and Councillor Frank O’ Flynn, for the invitation to give this oration. I was present a few years ago to listen to an immensely inspiring oration given by my colleague at that time, Senator Labhras Ó Murchú. Back in 1994, about nine days after the IRA ceasefire, then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, and I was his Northern Ireland advisor at the time, gave an important oration here, also on Sunday 11 September, when from a Republican perspective he compared the end of the civil war here with the cessation of the conflict in the North and the opportunities to draw a line under the past and make a new beginning. A week after the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, I myself gave an oration at the other Liam Lynch commemoration in Newcastle, Co. Tipperary. I will always remember an older man coming up to me afterwards, saying: ‘We accept that we too have to change’. Today, as vice-chair of the Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations, but also as someone who was deeply involved in the peace process, I find myself constantly reflecting on the meaning and interaction of events approximately a century apart from each other, without prejudice to their own integrity in their own time.

North Cork, East Limerick and South Tipperary are a geographical continuum with which I am familiar. From our house, two miles North of Tipperary, one can look out on the full length of the Galtee mountains, under the western end of which Liam Lynch grew up in Anglesboro. I was glad that during my time in OPW work was put in hand to protect Fermoy from regular devastating floods, with the same being done in Mallow and Clonmel. The experience since has so far been positive.

In past centuries, many members of my wider family lived or spent their life or their early life in the Blackwater Valley. Going back two generations to my grandparents’ time and beyond, my family would have been at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Liam Lynch, loyalist in the terminology of the period, but not involved in politics and prudent in behaviour. However, an exception was a great-great-uncle, a Colonel Arthur Mansergh, born in Cork, who served in the British army, and retired to Warrenpoint, where he became secretary of the local Ulster Unionist branch as well as the golf club. In 1914 he collected funds for Carson, and used to predict on local platforms that Home Rule would be a disaster for Ireland, to which my response is that we will never know, except that where it was introduced, in Northern Ireland, it malfunctioned badly and ended in disaster.

My father, born in 1910, recalled his own excitement as a boy in a 1938 diary entry:

‘I …can remember the troops leaving for the front in 1914, can remember stories of the Easter Rising of 1916, was fully conscious of the Anglo-Irish war and the civil war that followed, as I was then all the time in Tipperary, where I greeted Republicans and Free Staters alike with equal enthusiasm’.

He claimed to his family that amongst those he had encountered billeted from time to time in the grounds of Grenane, and to whom he went round offering apples, was Liam Lynch, with a gash down his face. What is certain from the evidence of witness testimony to the Bureau of Military History is that the gelignite captured and driven away on a cart from Sologheadbeg on 21 January 1919 in the first engagement of the War of Independence was temporarily hidden in a ditch along the Dundrum road on my grandfather’s lands at Grenane two miles away, without his knowledge of course.

As a historian for more than half a century, with some opportunities for first-hand observations, my father wrote with empathy about nationalism and independence in Ireland and India, unimpeded by family background. As shown by his first book on the Irish Free State published in 1934 and read by both Cosgrave and de Valera, he respected and admired the building of this new independent and democratic state, born out of strong and longstanding national feeling but also from the clash of force, and he interpreted the language and intent of the Proclamation as one of inclusion, even if subsequent reality did not always match the ideal.

Liam Lynch grew up in the aftermath of the Land War. He had a similar background to the Kent brothers of Castlelyons, who were not only in the case of two of them victims of the 1916 Rising, but also the key influence on Liam Lynch becoming more prominently involved in the Volunteers and in preparing for further resistance. Some of the local RIC had a vendetta against members of the Kent family going back to the late 1880s, because of their political activism in land agitation. It was one of the isolated events of 1916 in Cork, when the Kent brothers at night and at home resisted arrest, and a head constable was shot dead, Richard Kent was mortally wounded and died a few days later, while Thomas was court-martialled and executed. Lynch witnessed the brothers being transported on a cart across the bridge in Fermoy, now Kent Bridge, and this was the decisive moment in his life, when he resolved to dedicate himself wholly to the Republican cause. Like many here, I am sure, I had the honour to attend the State funeral and re-interment of Thomas Kent in Castlelyons.

Self-evidently, the Rising would not have been the opening stage of a national revolution, if there had not been Volunteers in all parts of the country prepared to take up the fight at the next opportunity. While most people straightforwardly and gratefully acknowledge that the Rising was the catalyst for the process that led to the achievement of an independent Irish state, which, for all the criticisms we have of it, we value, there are still critics who query the necessity or the morality of any resort to force from the Irish side, whilst usually expressing no views about the British use of force.

One might have more patience with this, if the concern for constitutionality, democracy and the rule of law were any way even-handed. The cursory trials and summary executions, not to mention the out of hand executions carried out by Captain Bowen-Colthurst of these parts, were a travesty of justice. Even pro-Allied American newspapers in 1916, like the New York Times, claimed the British had been ‘incredibly stupid’, and the Washington Post editorialized:

‘It is no exaggeration to say that a shock had gone around the world when it was learned that Patrick H. Pearse and the other leaders of the Irish revolt had been tried by drumhead court martial, found guilty and sentenced in a trice, and shot at sunrise against a wall’.

Let us be clear about it. Organs of Irish Unionist opinion in 1916, like the Irish Times, like the Church of Ireland Gazette, were enthusiastic supporters of the military dictatorship established under General Maxwell instituted by a supine British Government, and wanted no early curtailment of martial law. They wanted revolution put down once and for all.

What about the constitutional alternative of Home Rule? Lloyd George, still a Minister at that point, in June 1916 in the aftermath of the Rising tried to fast-track with the initial agreement of Carson and Redmond 26-county Home Rule with partition that had been suspended at the outbreak of the war. This was vetoed by Irish Unionists and their cabinet allies. Then in 1917-8, an Irish Convention was established that attempted to revive Home Rule on the original 32-county basis. That foundered on determined Ulster Unionist resistance. So, by the time the Lloyd George-led Coalition manifesto was published for the December 1918 General Election, it stated that Home Rule could not be implemented because of what it called ‘the present condition of Ireland’.

Lest anyone think that at this point the problem was the Republic, let me allow Lloyd George, by then Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on 23 October 1917, to disabuse them. He said:

‘It is not a question whether it is to be in the form of a republic…. The point is there is a demand for sovereign independence in Ireland … It is better that we should say at once that under no circumstances can this country possibly permit anything of that kind’.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton has claimed that independence would have come peacefully through Home Rule. In response, at a meeting of the Former Parliamentarians’ Association where I was the rapporteur at a session on the 1916 Rising, I quoted what my father the historian Nicholas Mansergh wrote in his last book The Unresolved Question: The Anglo-Irish Settlement and its Undoing published in 1991. He stated that ‘dominion status was not on offer’, and that, far from it being the goal of British policy, it remained until May 1921 an outcome expressly and repeatedly ruled out of consideration by the Prime Minister and leading members of the Coalition cabinet. Canada and Australia were large and faraway countries. Ireland was a next door island, and considered a core part of Britain. A Canadian province, not Canada itself, was seen as the comparison in the debate on the Third Home Rule Bill from a British perspective. The Statute of Westminster of 1931, which recognized the full independence of the Dominions, brought up by John Bruton, would have had no relevance to a 26-county Home Rule Ireland. Even today, there is determined British political opposition to Scotland even becoming a Dominion, though there is no question now on either side of using force. President Michael D. Higgins was correct when he said at Easter that but for the Rising his office would not exist.

The historian Liam de Paor quoted long-serving British Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury in 1889, explaining that England would never concede Home Rule to Ireland, except if it had to change its mind, not by mere persuasion, but only after the shedding of blood, after conflict, and under the pressure of military force.

In contrast, another former Fine Gael Taoiseach Dr. Garret FitzGerald expressed the quite different view that it was most unlikely that Home Rule would have led on to independence, describing this idea as ‘alternative history gone mad’. He argued that ‘there is little reason to believe that Britain would have permitted Ireland to secure independence at least until many decades after the Second World War’, and by then the financial costs, because of the welfare state, might have been prohibitive. I would add to his arguments, with which I agree, that it was foreseen early in the war that its ending would see a complete redrawing of the map of Europe, and it was the determination of separatists that Ireland should stake its claim so as to be part of that.

There is one notorious Sunday columnist, who recently depicted the consequences of the Rising in terms falling little short of the vision of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, death, poverty and a divided people, as the headline put it.  It would contribute greatly to the openness and clarity of debate, if commentators of that ilk would simply state, if it is their opinion, that this part of Ireland would be in a much better condition, if it had remained part of the United Kingdom, with or without Home Rule, and that unlike the freedom of practically every other nation on earth Irish freedom in their view was never worth a single drop of blood.

If 1916 lacked a prior mandate, the combined Sinn Féin and Volunteer Movement combined to secure it an overwhelming and enduring retrospective mandate in the 1918 General Election, despite every form of obstruction of election literature and candidates, many of whom were imprisoned. The election result was ignored by the British and by a good few unsympathetic historians since, and in 1919 both Sinn Féin and the Dáil were suppressed. Great efforts were made by both of them to win access to the peace conference and to gain international recognition or at least a hearing, which again was an attempt to follow a peaceful path. None of the powers who might have been expected to be sympathetic, because of former ties, whether the United States, France, Germany, or even the newly established Soviet Union, felt they could afford to alienate the British by espousing Ireland’s right to independence. While this is not to say that international opinion, and especially British, American and Commonwealth opinion, was unimportant, the Irish people found themselves once again on their own, and, if they were serious about independence which they were, they had no choice but to fight without material outside assistance.

The British made a ruthless, heavy-handed and often extra-judicial attempt to suppress the IRA guerrilla campaign under officers in this part of the country like General Strickland and Arthur Percival, who in later life was the commanding officer who surrendered Singapore to the Japanese in 1942. Outside of Dublin, some of the strongest resistance came from Munster. While lacking the flamboyance of Tom Barry or Dan Breen, Liam Lynch was one of the most effective officers, personally involved in a large number of engagements. He was described by Jamie Moynihan, who worked for him at the HQ of the 1st Southern Division, as ‘one of the main driving forces in the fight for freedom’ and engaged in ‘an endless labour of planning, organising and inspection’. He was also honourable in his conduct of warfare and treatment of prisoners and of those he disarmed. He did not feel near the limit of his capacity at the time of the Truce, and on the contrary was prepared to carry on the war with advantage, being sceptical of the negotiations. There were different perspectives on the feasibility of that.

Inevitably, as we approach the centenary of the Treaty split and the civil war, the rights and wrongs on all sides will continue to be explored and debated, but, as the President has emphasized, it should not be done in an overly partisan manner or in a spirit of bitterness and recrimination. No side had the monopoly of right in their actions, and it must never be forgotten that there was a third party, viz. the departing British power. The Treaty was a pragmatic arrangement, not based on the democratic principle of consent, still less of self-determination, and granted a limited independence characterized by the British as ‘Dominion Home Rule’. The British Commonwealth of Nations that subsequently claimed to be a free association of countries was one that Ireland alone was compelled to join, under threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’.

The position of Liam Lynch and many of his fellow-officers was that there should be no retreat from the declared Republic. Not considering a narrow Dáil majority sufficient to disestablish the Republic, he withdrew Army allegiance to it. No more than Michael Collins, who kept postponing the meeting of the Dáil from June to August 1922, he was not looking for a permanent military-controlled government, but considered merely that the Army had certain matters to settle first. Like others, he did his best to defuse potential military confrontation in the months leading up to the civil war. The problem was that the departing British had put the onus on the Free State to enforce the settlement. Conversely, if it were to be overturned in the short term, this meant civil war or renewed war with the British.

The late Seán MacBride, with whom I discussed the matter and who sent me some articles on the subject, believed the agreed republican constitution, analogous to the Constitution promulgated in 1938, was the key, but of course Churchill and his advisor Curtis vetoed this. Less constructive was the collusion between both sides of the Treaty divide in attacking Northern Ireland, which only stiffened the Unionist position.

Unfortunately, nothing is more frequent in newly emergent countries than civil war, and over large parts of Central and Eastern Europe infinitely bloodier civil wars were raging in many of the States that emerged from the First World War. Reprisals and atrocities were so numerous and repeated on such a scale that it would be impossible to moralize agonisingly over them individually, as has happened in Ireland over a handful of controversial and tragic incidents.

For some commentators, nothing should be allowed to distract from or relativize the iniquity of an Irish rebellion against a beneficent Empire, whose gracious favours should have been awaited with infinitely more patience. When the female counterpart to Lawrence of Arabia Gertrude Stein in her excellent Arabic tried to put the line to an Iraqi politician in 1920 that complete independence was what Britain ultimately wished to give, something certainly not being promised to Ireland in the middle of the Tan War, he replied to her: ‘My lady, “complete independence” is never given; it is taken’. Mistakes are made in even the most justified revolutions, and mistakes are most assuredly made in attempts, successful or not, to put them down.

The statesman and founding father of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew once reflected on the reasons for conflict after the concession of independence:

‘In every one of the newly emergent countries, they face trouble immediately after independence is won. That is one of the problems of an emergent society. Authority has got to be exercised. And when authority is not backed, by position, prestige or usage, then it has to defend actively against challenge’.

The disagreement over the Treaty was really about whether to bank significant gains or whether to persevere until the Republic could be won.

The civil war dissipated the high hopes of ‘the four glorious years’, and represented a serious setback. The bitterness engendered by attacks and reprisals remained and coloured politics for a long time. The fight went on too long, but was coming close to an end when Liam Lynch was shot on the slopes of the Knockmealdown Mountains. It was clear to most of the Republican leaders at the time that a new and purely political strategy would have to be adopted, if Republican aims were to be further pursued. Over the next quarter of a century, politics did succeed in removing the restrictions on the freedom of the Irish State. Dominion status was not a success. Irish democracy was. Republican politics succeeded and won public support, provided it steered clear of war.

Nowadays, there is a broad political, economic and academic consensus that wants to write off as failure the first 40 or 50 years of independence. I regard that as very unfair. Such criticism has little regard to the difficult international environment of the 1920s and 1930s, not to mention the war years. Yet comparisons are made between countries as if normal conditions prevailed. Solid institutions were established, and Irish democracy survived much better than most. Catholic social policy, whatever its shortcomings, was an infinitely more benign foundation for society than fascism, national socialism, or Stalinism. In those times, it would have been difficult to establish an initial domestic industrial base without resort to protection. Ireland in those days was determined not be a British vassal state, and there was a certain price to be paid for that. Ireland, having been largely spared war damage, did not have the stimulus of post-war reconstruction, and, where criticism is fair, it was slow to adapt to the new post-war environment.

However, the Treaty provided no stepping stone to a united Ireland. It was only after long trials and tragic further conflict that an accommodation was finally arrived at, which has been the basis for a transformation in relations. The border in a physical sense has disappeared at least for now. The Taoiseach Enda Kenny has re-emphasized a key feature of the Good Friday Agreement in Oxford this weekend at the British-Irish Association Conference, when he stated:

‘The possibility of unity by consent must be maintained as a valid democratic option into the future. That means that, if there were democratic consent to Irish unity at some time in the future, there must be a mechanism to ensure that democratic decision can be implemented within the European Union, as was the case in Germany’.

As Chancellor Kohl and other German leaders have acknowledged, Charles Haughey, President of the European Council in the first half of 1990, was particularly helpful in facilitating the integration of a united Germany into the European Union over the objections of Mrs. Thatcher. His successors Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern ensured that the keeping open of long-term constitutional options was a centrepiece of the Good Friday Agreement.

Recent discussion of this follows on the new challenge presented by Brexit, the implications of which are still far from clear. It is difficult to see what the advantages are for Northern Ireland, or what the reaction will be of foreign investors in Britain who established there on the basis of guaranteed access to a single market of roughly 500 million people, if that is incompatible with the desire to control EU migration. In due course, no doubt, a new equilibrium will be established, and both Britain and Ireland have a strong mutual interest in maintaining their high volume of trade. Ireland of course has always represented an important part of Britain’s security of food supply. The warm relations that now exist between the two islands as a consequence of the peace process should be of positive assistance to us now.

Nevertheless, Brexit puts Ireland and Britain once more on diverging paths. We will have to manage our interests in Europe without British support, and there will undoubtedly be intensified pressures on some of our vital interests. We will have to find other allies. On occasion, we may be called upon to draw attention to interests on this island outside our jurisdiction. Our situation is of course quite different from Britain’s. On their own, they are a market of 65 million people. On our own we have a market of under 5m people. Comparatively few people would be attracted to the idea of this country again becoming subservient to Britain. Our close economic relations with the United States depend on our continued unimpeded access to the EU Single Market, where we may end up the only Member State of any size to share a common language with the US. Our strength and prosperity will come from balancing different and important sets of relationships, not opting for one against the other. In 1798, Thomas Addis Emmet told a secret committee of the Irish Parliament: ‘America is the best market in the world, and Ireland the best situated country in Europe to trade with that market’.

We are in a stronger position today than in the past to deal with this, and, despite having a minority government that is a bit unsteady at times, I am confident that the supply and confidence arrangement negotiated between Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin as leaders of our two main parties will enable this country to cope effectively with any major national difficulty that may unexpectedly arise. We are fortunate that as the only other sovereign State in these islands we will not be dragged along unwillingly in the wake of what was mainly the English people’s decision to leave the EU. Robert Emmet over 200 years ago defined the essence of independence as taking our place among the nations. We should be proud of that place, jealously guard it, and remain ever grateful to all those who in different ways and with great sacrifices succeeded in the end in winning that place against all the odds. That independence may yet be of benefit to all who live on this island, regardless of historic differences which should not be allowed any longer to hold us back.

Alongside what we would view as Irish patriotism, and not as a substitute for it, we also need to develop an all-island patriotism which respects and that can include all traditions as a basis for managing together some of the many tests ahead. That has been the spirit of the commemoration of 1916 in all its facets in the decade of centenaries.