Haunted by her troubles

The Long Road Home

In her first book The Long Road Home, Lynch, who runs a meditation walking and writing centre in Co Mayo, revisits her childhood, describing an idyllic life as one of 11 children, which came to an abrupt end the night she woke with a gun to her head and a British soldier ordering her out of bed.

Constant raids on the Lynch family home in rural Co Fermanagh meant she grew up living in fear, trusting no one and fleeing Ireland at 18 to get away from the persecution she and her family suffered.

The events of the next few years of the Troubles saw the young teenager constantly on the move – working and travelling, anything to get away from her true identity, afraid to acknowledge what she had gone through.

Years later, when she settled in the west of Ireland, the frightening memories of her past began to surface and Lynch realised she would have to face the truth or live forever in a self-destructive spiral of work, exhaustion, illness, depression and medication.

On one level, The Long Road Home is a simple story of healing and self-awakening, but on another it is an important reminder of what many Irish people have largely been able to ignore.

While a savage and harrowing war raged just miles up the road, it was so far removed from lives in the south that it didn’t seem to matter. Lynch is stinging in her criticism of the Irish media, and people living south of the border, and how many became desensitised to the atrocities.

She maintains people simply did not understand what is was like to live in such constant fear for your family and community.

Perhaps one of the most salient passages in the book is the six-page chapter called The Blame Game. Here Lynch makes reference to the IRA bombing in Warrington in 1993 and the outpouring of grief when two young boys, 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Johnathan Ball, died.

While Lynch acknowledges this was justified and warranted, her anger stems from the fact that the very same weekend, two young men were killed in the North but their names were barely mentioned.

Indeed the only mention a quick online search shows is in a wikipedia article, which states:

“The Castlerock killings took place on 25 March 1993 in the village of Castlerock, County Londonderry. Members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a loyalist paramilitary group, shot dead three civilians and a Provisional IRA volunteer as they arrived for work. The men were all Catholics.

“The men were builders and renovating houses in Gortree Park as part of a renewal contract with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Just yards away, some parents were helping their children (all under 12) onto their school bus. The victims were James McKenna (52), Gerard Dalrymple (58), Noel O’Kane (20) and Provisional IRA volunteer James Kelly (25).”

The same day a 16-year-old, Damien Walsh, was shot dead in Belfast. Lynch recounts feeling utterly disgusted by the fact that lives lost in Northern Ireland did not seem to mean as much as those in England.

“I walked the streets of the town I lived in and watched horrified as people signed books of condolences for the children killed in Warrington and not a mention of the four dead men in Derry, or a child killed in Belfast,” she writes.

“I did not sign the book as I do not believe these children were any more or less important than our fellow countrymen.”

The Fermanagh woman also talks about her fear in admitting who she was – the sister of Seán Lynch, former leader of the IRA inside the Maze Prison. Sean was seriously wounded and fellow IRA member Seamus McElwaine was shot dead when the SAS opened fired as they prepared to ambush a security force patrol in April 1986. He was arrested and jailed for 12 years, serving as officer commanding the IRA inside the Maze from 1992 until 1995 and was released under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

In the small town where she lived in the west of Ireland, Lynch was still hiding who she was, and this only added to the stress in her life – she even had to hide the fact her brother was shot from her in-laws.

After years of sickness, and physical pain which she tried to forget by becoming a workaholic, and later by taking sedative medications, Lynch was finally diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Mary Lynch will no doubt provide inspiration to hundreds, if not thousands, of people like her who grew up during that time in the North and who are suffering because of it.

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