HISTORY: Cork marks centenary of the birth of Jack Lynch (1917-1999) who twice served as Taoiseach (1966-1973 & 1977-1979)

16 August 2017
By Elaine Murphy
elaine@TheCork.ie

Jack Lynch

Yesterday (Tuesday August 15th 2017) a ceremony was held in St. Finbarr’s Cemetry, Cork to mark the centenary of the birth of Jack Lynch. Cork City Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, who is also a member of Fianna Fail, made the following speech.

Speech of Lord Mayor

“Many tributes, events and commemorations will be organised to pay a fitting tribute to Jack Lynch, a great man, husband, sportsman and politician.

I am honoured as Lord Mayor of Cork to be among the many contributors to Jack Lynch’s memory on this, the centenary of his birth. It is a deep privilege for me as Lord Mayor of Cork to remember fondly the former Taoiseach, “the most popular Irish politician since Daniel O’ Connell”.

Generations before me from all political persuasions speak fondly of Jack Lynch.

Born under the Shandon steeple, he was referred to by Eamonn Duggan of Ireland’s Own as “one of the most popular and notable individuals ever to grace Ireland’s public stage”. He attended Eason’s Hill School, St Vincent’s Convent, North Monastery and Kings Inn Dublin.

Here are a few of the Iconic descriptions and images that describe his unique place in Cork life, Irish life, European life and on the world stage.

1. He was a ‘North Mon’ boy:
I attended An Mhainister Thuaidh – the North Monastery. The Christian Brothers had as their goal: to provide equal opportunities to all who attended the school to realise their potential through the power of education – for that, I personally owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

I was taught by the Brothers to believe that there was nothing that could not be achieved through hard work and diligence.

The Mayoralty chain (now 230 years old) worn by McCurtain and MacSwiney, who were also North Mon boys, and worn by me in this year of the centenary of the birth of Mon boy, Jack Lynch, honours the seat of learning that produced those three great heroes. The North Monastery fostered a deep seated love of Irish sport, heritage and identity.

2. He was a ‘Glen Rovers’ man:
His sporting experiences with Glen Rovers Hurling Club and St. Nicholas’ Football Club brought him to the greatest heights of the GAA world with both All Ireland and Football medals.

Indeed, Jack Lynch first rose to prominence locally and nationally as an exceptional sportsman winning an impressive 10 senior county championships hurling medals including eight in a row.

In addition to his All Ireland Hurling and Football medals he received many other individual honours such as “Hurling Captain of the Forties” and in 1984 was placed on the “Hurling Team of the Century” and of course his inclusion in the 1999 “Hurling Team of the Millennium” was extra special.

I was never a sportsman but rather a supporter of sports – all sports, playing that crucial role in the crowd cheering on the ‘Gorm agus Ban’ of the Mon’ or the red and white of the Rebel City and County.

3. He was ‘The Real Taoiseach’
As a sportsman, Lynch earned a reputation for decency and fair play, characteristics he brought to political life. It was for this that the man, known for his ever-present pipe and soft Cork lilt in his voice, will be remembered. A Cork barrister and politician, Jack Lynch served two terms as Taoiseach from 1966 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1979.
The appointment of a Commission on the Status of Women in 1970, which was the first politically significant Irish State initiative on the equality agenda, was a significant milestone during his term of office along with overseeing Ireland joining the European Economic Community (European Union) in 1973. This was a defining moment in modern Irish history which contributed to Ireland’s future economic prosperity.

4. He was a ‘Man of Peace’
The journey to securing peace in Northern Ireland stretches way back to 1969 when Jack Lynch decided that a peaceful approach to Northern Ireland was the only way forward. Many people now enjoy a peaceful and prosperous environment throughout our land as a result of his legacy and many others.

Central to the North Mon’s teaching ethos were our language, our literature, our sport, our poetry and our music. For a young independent nation to take its place among the nations of the earth, (as Robert Emmet so eloquently put it), then it must cherish and celebrate all that makes it unique.

McCurtain and McSwiney and other great Irish patriots were not violent men and women. They were poets, writers, fathers, mothers, musicians, sweeethearts, husbands and wives. But they were prepared to sacrifice all of those things they held precious in life in the pursuit of a singular goal – an independent Ireland which reflected our own values, our own traditions, our own culture.
When the very fabric of the State was tested and noble goals distorted by recourse to violence, Jack Lynch, leader and statesman, ploughed the furrow of peace. In home, in school, on the field, and in public life, he had the courage to do so.

5. He was ‘One of our Own’
I have very fond memories of being in his company as a young boy way back in the 70’s and 80’s.
Living over the village of Blackpool, local neighbours Tim O Sullivan (Sullivan’s Butchers English Market) and Pat Punch encouraged young boys to play in the Glen Rovers Street Leagues, which often included a visit by Jack Lynch to the club. Here he would mingle with us and take up the hurley and interact with all the players and coaches.
Years later, I was involved in a number of youth and community projects based in the ‘Hut’ in Gurranbraher. Our youth club, the Ascension Youth Club had entered the very popular ‘Tops of the Club’s’ drama competition organised by Ogra Chorcai.
In sporting terms, this was our County Final with lots of rehearsals and various heats of the competition. To reach the final in Connolly Hall and in the end, win the competition was a great achievement. However when our winners were presented with the trophy by the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch it was a great honour. His gentle and warm engagement with us remains with me.

In different eras, both of us travelled similar school journeys in primary and secondary school. Jack lived at Clonard on Redemption Road, now owned by Annette and Oliver Butt, and I lived in Cushing Place Farranree and travelled the same school journey down Redemption Road onto the Bishop’s Palace and up Peacock Lane into the Mon’.

6. He was ‘Much Loved’
When he died in 1999, Cork mourned. Crowds gathered along the route to this Cemetery from the North Chapel. He had crossed many bridges to reach his resting place. Not since the deaths of MacSwiney and Mc Curtain did Corkonions express their sadness and appreciation of the legacy of Cork’s favourite son through the streets of our beautiful city. One had a sense that things had come full circle.

So it’s fitting that we remember Jack Lynch on the centenary of his birth.

In doing so, remember also his wife Mairin (O’Connor) whom he met while on holiday in Glengarriff in 1943 and married in 1946 – his lifelong friend, who, more than anyone else knew and loved ‘The Mon boy’, The ‘Glen Rovers Man’, ‘The Real Taoiseach’, ‘The Man of Peace’ ‘One of our Own’ and ‘Much Loved’.

I wonder what ‘iconic’ description she would offer?

May they both rest in Peace.

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