I was honoured to give the main address at the annual Liam Lynch commemoration in Tipperary’s Knockmealdown mountains.
General Liam Lynch was a patriot and a freedom fighter. As we remembered him we also sent solidarity to those around the world fighting for their own freedom, from Catalonia to Palestine.
Full speech text below.
It is a great privilege to be asked to speak here today in memory of one of Ireland’s greatest patriots.
I’d like to take this opportunity, as we stand here to remember this freedom fighter, to show solidarity with the many other peoples around the world fighting for their freedom today and in particular the people of Palestine who have come under the most outrageous attacks over the past number of weeks for the crime of protesting for their right to exist.
As an MEP let me declare how disgusted I am that while a state is massacering civilians and engaging in open genocide, the EU has all but turned a blind eye. There have been no sanctions, no trade embargos, merely a mealy mouthed call for restraint on both sides, as if this were some sort of equal fight between mutual aggressors.
Thankfully this week our own Seanad is leading the way in Europe and has passed a Bill banning the import of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements.
I would urge the government to adopt this Bill and not ignore it as they have done with other votes in the Oireachtas. It has been four years since the Dail voted to recognise the State of Palestine and the Government has still not enacted that motion.
In recent years there have been attempts by the usual suspects to portray General Liam Lynch as some sort of crazed warmonger.
I suspect as we approach the hundredth anniversaries of the War of Independence and the Civil War we will have to contend with much more revisionism, as we did in 2016, as those with vested interests seek to twist our past to suit their own ends.
Liam Lynch was, at every turn of his life, a moderate man by all accounts, greatly concerned with the lives of others forced into an increasingly militaristic role by increasingly ruthless enemies.
In 1916 he had in fact been a Redmondite, joining the Irish Volunteers only after witnessing the RIC shoot brothers David and Richard Kent during a round up of Volunteers following the Rising. While Richard died they marched a third brother, Thomas Kent, bleeding and bound through the town of Fermoy and later executed him.
He proved his mettle during the War of Independence in a series of large scale engagements, first becoming Commandant of the Cork Second Brigade and later being made Commander of the 1st Southern Division.
He opposed the Treaty but in the immediate aftermath his main concern was that it did not divide republicans.
He was seen as a trustworthy intermediary by both pro and anti-treaty forces during a stand-off in Limerick. He spent long hours meeting with Michael Collins in an effort to reunite the army and stave off a Civil War.
Again, his hand was forced when Free Staters, under the guidance of British soldiers, used British guns to shell rebels in the Four Courts.
He set up the Munster Republic and under his command orders were given that Free State soldiers were not to be attacked while off duty, that prisoners were not to be mistreated and that informers were not to be killed.
The Free State responded with the Murder Bill, allowing the extrajudicial killing of anyone they suspected of being a rebel. Along with a grisly series of executions of prisoners that dwarfed even that of the Brits for sheer, craven bloodlust, he was placed in an impossible position and the IRA was once again forced to take a tougher stance.
On the 10 of April 1923 he was heading to a secret meeting of Republican leaders. His group ran into a party of Free Staters and they fought their way across the Knockmealdown Mountains in an effort to escape.
During a lull in the fighting the group tired to make good their escape when a single shot rang out and Liam Lynch fell to the ground, mortally wounded.
Here again he showed his compassion for others when, as his comrades tried to carry him to safety, he saw he was slowing them down and ordered them to leave him and go on without him.
Some of his last words to his Free State captors were of the Civil War he had tried to prevent. “It should never have happened” he lamented “I am glad to be going away from it. Poor Ireland, poor Ireland.”
Among the few items they found on his person when he died was a notebook. It contained his notes for the meeting of IRA leaders he had been going to when they were attacked. They called for a settlement to be found with the Free Staters that would allow IRA volunteers to dump arms and end the Civil War.
Cut down by fellow Irishmen with papers of peace in his pocket, it is sadly poetic that he fell on the 10th of April, the same day the Good Friday Agreement would be signed 75 years later.
This is the man revisionists would paint as a war monger.
One of his most famous declarations was also one of his most simple.
“We have declared for a Republic,” he said. “We will live under no other law.”
We too, all of us gathered here to remember this great man, have declared for a Republic and we too will live under no other law.
Thankfully, the days of enacting change with bullets has passed but bravery is still required.
Our Republic is Liam Lynch’s Republic.
It was not permitted to exist by Westminster in 1949, OUR Republic defiantly declared itself a reality in 1916. It did not seek permission to exist. It drew its authority, not from the acquiescence of a British parliament but from the Irish people.
That Republic lives today.
While our island may be divided, While this state may be subject to the whims of Irish Tories in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, while our brothers and sisters in the north may find their democratic rights subject to the mood of a modern day viceroy, the nation, the Republic, is still alive.
And so we do not gather here to mourn its loss, we gather here to rededicate ourselves, under the watch of Liam Lynch, to its recognition.
Because it is a trying time for our Republic.
In this state, Fine Gael, propped up by a de facto Fianna Fail coalition, have taken the side of landlords against tenants and of bosses against strikers.
They have failed to address the housing crisis and practically ignored the health care crisis. Is this a government Liam Lynch would have defended?
In the six counties people have had their most basic democratic rights denied.
Two years ago they clearly and decisively rejected Brexit and yet we are still living under the threat of the reimposition of a border in our country.
The British Government, in turn, has displayed the same selective commitment to democracy as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
They are seeking to set aside the principle of consent, they are seeking to set aside the Good Friday and other agreements and they are seeking to impose an EU frontier across Ireland.
Let me be completely unambiguous here. The Irish people will accept no border in our country, regardless of who attempts to impose it, whether it be the British government, the EU or Leinster House.
The Taoiseach needs to stand with the people of Ireland and ensure that the north is designated special status within the EU.
And the southern government must also live up to its commitments regarding the six counties. They must stand with us, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, and demand respect and equality for all.
They must demand that the British Government own up to its part in the dirty war, that they honour previous agreements on the past and open their files on collusion and tell us, among other atrocities, who bombed Dublin and Monaghan. I cannot think of a single example, anywhere in the world, where a government has been more accepting and compliant about the mass murder of its citizens.
No doubt Liam Lynch, who foresaw the disaster partition would cause, would be dismayed today to find our island still divided but I trust he would take heart in the fact that almost a century later republicanism has never been stronger.
A united Ireland is back on the agenda. Brexit, for those who preferred to ignore the reality, has highlighted the undemocratic and counter-productive nature of partition.
The Irish government must acknowledge that and begin planning a Green Paper on re-unification. Because Irish unity cannot be the responsibility of Sinn Féin alone.
And Irish unity must not be restricted to adding the two parts of Ireland together. It must be more than repainting the post boxes.
It is an opportunity to build anew.
Our vision for a united Ireland is no place for the cronyism and corruption of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. It is no place for the golden circles and conservative elites of freestaterism. It is no place for the sectarianism and disrespect of some elements of unionism.
Ours is the vision of Tone and Emmett , Connolly and Pearse, of Bobby Sands, Mairead Farrell, Liam Lynch and Martin McGuinness.
We want a prosperous, united, and inclusive Ireland. We can secure and win a unity referendum.
To win a unity referendum we must demonstrate that a united Ireland will deliver economically for all. That citizens are better in one state without barriers to trade, without a border. That our young people have a more prosperous future in one Ireland.
To win a unity referendum we must demonstrate that equality will be at the core of government.
We cannot allow poverty and inequality to diminish our republic. There can be no place for the crises of homelessness and in hospitals. We must build a truly national health care service free at the point of delivery for all.
To win a unity referendum we must demonstrate that all citizens have rights and all citizens are respected. We want a progressive and inclusive Ireland.
Republicans must be generous and imaginative, we must freely offer the rights that were denied to us.
There has never been more potent an opportunity for change in Ireland, north and south.
The old certainties are gone. The grip of the old parties is loosening. The conservative pillars of society are exposed for the corruption they supported. The perpetual unionist majority has ended. Europe is in a state of flux.
Now is the time to build a new Ireland. An Ireland that will honour our patriot dead. An Ireland that will be a place for all. An Ireland united, equal and sovereign.
An Ireland that Liam Lynch would be proud of, that he would not be, as he said with his last breaths, “happy to be going away from.”
The Civil War ended some three weeks after Liam Lynch’s death and despite the horror of that period the worst for Ireland was yet to come as we saw the embedding of two repressive, sectarian, conservative states on our island.
It was everything Liam Lynch feared.
But opposition to this did not die with him. While he was a great man, he was just that; a man. His ability to affect change came not just from within himself but from those he inspired.
It was the thousands of volunteers of Oglaigh na hEireann and Cumann na mBan that he and people like him lead, that forced change. The power for change lies not in the hands of a person but in the hands of the people.
So let us remember Liam Lynch the man but let us also remember the men and women he lead and the cause they fought for.
Do not go away from here dejectedly thinking “ah if only we had more like him today.”
We do. They are standing in front of me. So rather, when you leave here think what you can do to bring about the Republic that Liam Lynch wanted but more importantly, the Republic that YOU want to see.
As Bobby Sands famously said, “everyone has their part to play.”
Take this opportunity to think what your part may be.
That is not only the greatest tribute you can pay to Liam Lynch but the first step in you recognising your own potential for making a difference.
The power for change lies in the hands of the people. Let’s grasp it!