Diarmuid Lynch: Key Easter Rising planner who escaped execution

Present at a crucial meeting in Hardwicke Street, Dublin, on Easter Saturday in 1916 were Patrick Pearse, Tomás MacDonagh, Seán MacDiarmada, Joseph Plunkett, and Corkman Diarmuid Lynch.
Diarmuid Lynch: Key Easter Rising planner who escaped execution
Éamonn de Valera

The meeting reconvened on Sunday in Liberty Hall where the five were joined by James Connolly, Éamonn Ceannt, and Tom Clarke. The consensus decision was to proceed with the planned rebellion at noon on the following day.

Of that group only Lynch was alive a month later. But who has heard of Diarmuid Lynch?

“Diarmuid’s trouble was that he was not executed,” was the wry comment of one of Lynch’s relatives when asked why he is so notably absent from the prolific literature about the 1916 Easter Rising.

Like Pearse, MacDonagh, and others, he was condemned to be shot in the stonebreakers’ yard at Kilmainham Gaol. He was an American citizen, having spent a decade in the USA before returning to live in Ireland.

When news of Lynch’s sentence was received by his influential Irish-American friends they persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to intercede with the British Government on behalf of Diarmuid Lynch who was active in the GPO for that momentous week in April. Wilson’s intervention may have been a factor in the commuting of his sentence but undoubtedly the revulsion expressed across the world at the executions in Kilmainham was another factor.

As a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Lynch was a marked man before Easter 1916. Dublin Castle had dubbed him “a dangerous agitator”. The detective department of Dublin Castle listed him as one of the “Dublin Extremists” being watched on a daily basis.

For regular updates on news and features (as well as twitter action action as it may have happened 100 years ago) to mark the revolutionary period follow @theirishrev HERE

Classed as an “enemy alien”, he was forbidden to move outside a five mile radius of his Dublin address. It was Lynch who travelled south at the behest of Pearse in 1915 to decide in consultation with Austin Stack and other Kerry Brigade commandants on a suitable landing site for the promised German armaments.

During all of Easter Week in the GPO, Lynch was Aide de Camp to James Connolly and a captain of the GPO battalion. His succinct report compiled in 1936/37 gives the briefest description of his activities during that week.

Diarmuid Lynch: A Forgotten Irish Patriot, by Eileen McGough (Mercier Press, 2013)
Diarmuid Lynch: A Forgotten Irish Patriot, by Eileen McGough (Mercier Press, 2013)

(It was Lynch in 1935 who proposed recording the individual experiences of the GPO survivors. At successive meetings of the garrison he co-ordinated and reviewed those reports and with the consensus of all survivors the completed 44 page report was lodged with the National Library. This invaluable document was created a decade before the Bureau of Military History began on a similar task, but naturally many more survivors had died by 1947.)

Released in June 1917 from Lewes Prison, Lynch was of the party of Cork ex-prisoners who were greeted by a crowd of 10,000 at Glanmire Road Station. In his address to the crowd at the Grand Parade, he declared: “As a Corkman I am glad to return to my native city and to find that it is a rebel Cork, a Republican Cork and an Irish Cork.”

Historian John Borgonovo observed that Lynch was the most senior IRB leader to survive the Easter Rising. His colleague at UCC school of history Gabriel Doherty says Lynch was “an utterly central figure in the 1916 Rising.”

In the remaining months of 1917 and into 1918 Lynch was centrally engaged with Michael Collins, Harry Boland, Diarmuid Hegarty, Tom Ashe and Fionán Lynch.Their programme was to draw up a new constitution for the IRB, secure positions of influence in Sinn Féin and revamp the Irish Volunteers organisation.

With Cathal Brugha and Con Collins, Lynch was back in Cork in January 1918 to conduct an inquiry into the “inaction” of the Cork Volunteers at Easter 1916.

Lynch was appointed “Food Controller” in the Sinn Féin Executive, a role in which he fulminated against food being exported to feed the British Army when there was food shortage at home. He took his campaign a stage further in February 1918 when, with a band of Volunteers, he kidnapped a herd of 34 pigs as they trotted down the North Circular Road on their way to export.

The pigs were slaughtered. The meat was sold to the people of Dublin. The owners were compensated and Diarmuid Lynch was arrested and imprisoned for this defiance of the law.

Cathal MacDubhghaill composed a popular ballad to celebrate the daring deed. “The Pig Push” was sung lustily in the pubs as Lynch’s action was much appreciated by the public.

In Dundalk Gaol, hearing that he was to be deported to the USA, Lynch decided he would marry his fiancee, Kathleen Quinn of County Kildare so she could join him in America. Permission was refused so an elaborate plan swung into action.

Enjoyed this? Then check out our dedicated micro-site, developed in collaboration with UCC, to mark the revolutionary period HERE

Kathleen arrived at Dundalk Gaol accompanied by her sister Carmel and Fr Aloysius Travers. They had requested to see not only her fiance, Diarmuid, but also Michael Brennan of Clare and Frank Henderson of the Dublin Volunteers. With Brennan and Henderson as witnesses, the couple married with the priest officiating.

The infuriated prison governor immediately set Lynch’s deportation in motion. When the train carrying Lynch and two armed detectives reached Amiens Street Station in Dublin, the efficient IRB grapevine ensured that a large crowd of Volunteers was waiting for it.

Among those gathered were Michael Collins, Harry Boland and Éamonn de Valera. Boland intimated that the Volunteers were ready to “spring” the newly married prisoner, but Lynch, fearing chaos and injuries, declined — by now the station was thronged with police, soldiers and innocent civilians.

Éamonn de Valera
Éamonn de Valera

With the police and military escort numerically overwhelmed by Volunteers, when Lynch and his escorts were loaded into the “Black Maria” his fiancee and Michael Collins were allowed travel to the Bridewell with him. de Valera roared as they left the station, “Diarmuid you have set a new style in weddings by taking your bride to the Bridewell!”

It was the last time those three key nationalists, Michael Collins, Éamonn de Valera and Diarmuid Lynch, were together.

Eileen McGough is author of Diarmuid Lynch: A Forgotten Irish Patriot (Mercier Press, 2013)

More in this section