The life and times of Galway’s first Labour TD

FOR A few months during 1927, Galway city and county – it was all one constituency then – was represented in the Dáil by Gilbert Lynch. He won the seat in June and lost it in September.

Between the two elections, my near namesake, Kevin O’Higgins, then Minister for Justice, was assassinated by Republicans on his way to Mass. There were real fears this might re-open the Civil War. The other huge event of 1927 was Fianna Fáil entering the Dáil for the first time, after the split from Sinn Féin.

Gilbert Lynch had a habit of putting himself at the centre of whatever was going on. He was an active participant in the 1916 Rising, as he recalls in the newly published memoir, The Life and Times of Gilbert Lynch (edited by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh, published by The Irish Labour History Society ):

“Early on Tuesday evening a young lady came down and wanted to cross the barricade. I asked her where she was going, and she said, ‘To Mass at the Franciscans.’ I went to help her over the barricade, but she told me she did not need any help from ruffian blackguards like us, so I did not let her get over the barricade, and I’m afraid she missed Mass that morning.”

Born in Stockport, near Manchester, Lynch was active in Irish and Labour movement causes there. In 1920 he got the job of coming to Galway to organise the local branch of the ITGWU, which had just had its premises burnt down and its secretary driven out by British forces.

Lynch stayed with his sister-law, a Mrs King, in St John’s Terrace. One night three armed and masked men knocked on the door of Mrs King’s house, burst in, and dragged Lynch outside.

“They marched me up between them to Henry Street, and walked up Henry Street to New Road and then came down the canal bank, and they put me up against the wall,” Lynch wrote. “One man hit me on the head with a revolver…and they started to question me.”

Lynch was clearly a man of huge personal courage. When he was elected to the Dáil, “his supporters, led by a band, carried him shoulder high home to Merchants’ Road where a bonfire greeted him.”

In the Dáil, Lynch clashed with Martin McDonagh, Cumann na nGaedheal TD and Galway city’s biggest employer. McDonagh attacked Lynch’s record as a trade union organiser in Galway as being “frankly and openly Bolshevik.”

One person who does not come across well in Lynch’s memoir is, perhaps surprisingly, Jim Larkin. He does admit Larkin’s qualities: “He had a magnetic personality and could hold a crowd…no one can take away from him the way that he did rally the workers in 1913.”

But according to Lynch: “He was also most intolerant and dictatorial of anybody who served under him.” Elsewhere, Lynch comes close to accusing Larkin of being a liar: “I think he used to say things and then say them so often, he would think they were true.”

Many other editors would have massaged out such inconveniences, but in Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh, one socialist who never allows himself to become separated from the facts, Gilbert Lynch found the perfect editor.

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