In­cred­i­ble tale of a man who rewrote record books in sports and pol­i­tics

TP O’Ma­hony, au­thor of a bi­og­ra­phy of Jack Lynch, re­counts high­lights of the life of the pop­u­lar Taoiseach and sports­man

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - JACK LYNCH CENTENARY -

It was a sul­try day in late May in 1990, and out­side the main en­trance to the City Hall in Cork three Gar­dai were on duty. They stood in front of the busts of two of Cork’s most fa­mous sons—Ter­ence MacSwiney and To­mas MacCur­tain, both of whom served as Lord Mayor.

In­side, in the vast au­di­to­rium, another fa­mous Cork­man was just fin­ish­ing an ora­tion on the ros­trum. As the ap­plause died away, he walked un­steadily from the stage to re­sume his place in the front row. The MC thanked him, and then the ap­plause thun­dered again through the au­di­to­rium as he hailed Jack Lynch and as­sured him that to the peo­ple of Cork he would al­ways be “the real Taoiseach”.

It was by now a fa­mil­iar tag and one to which Lynch was well used; he knew it was as much an ex­pres­sion of af­fec­tion as any­thing else, though he knew too it harked back to dark and trau­matic days for the Fianna Fail party and the coun­try.

Jack Lynch was not a sen­ti­men­tal­ist. And although he re­fused to see him­self as a shaper of his­tory, he knew he was the right man for his time, the leader the coun­try needed when all of the is­land could have been plunged into another bloody and bit­ter civil war.

“He kept his head, and so en­abled all of us to keep ours,” was how his fel­low Corko­nian, John A Mur­phy, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of Ir­ish His­tory at UCC, de­scribed the essence of Lynch’s role in the highly dan­ger­ous years of 1969-70.

In 1990, at the age of 73, Jack Lynch was in­clined to make the odd joke about ad­vanc­ing years. Af­ter that speech he sat in the Lord Mayor’s of­fice and in re­ply to a ques­tion about his health, he said: “I’m as well as can be ex­pected at the hospi­tal gates”.

On be­ing told by another ad­mirer that he was “look­ing well”, he glanced at the glass of Paddy in his hand and com­mented: “There are three stages of man­hood – adult­hood, mid­dle-age, and you’re look­ing well!”

The Jack Lynch story be­gan in a small nar­row laneway which in­ter­sects Ex­change Street at the foot of one of Ire­land’s best-known land­marks. Here, in the shadow of St Anne’s Church, Shan­don, John Mary Lynch was born on 15 Au­gust 1917.

The laneway was never known as any­thing other than “Bob and Joan’s” – the name be­ing de­rived from two statu- es at ei­ther side of the walk­way. Nearby was the old But­ter Mar­ket which made a pass­able ball- al­ley, and the street fea­tured many a tus­sle among the young hurlers who used the Mar­ket’s door­posts as a goal. Apart from play­ing hurl­ing in the streets, young Jack also swam in the sum­mers in Crosshaven and “Hell Hole” near In­nis­carra, and raced on his bi­cy­cle against the old Mus kerry tram.

From this back­ground, not at all un­usual for the northside of Cork, came the man who was des­tined to carve an un­ri­valled niche for him­self in the an­nals of the Gaelic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion.

Jack was the fifth son, and also had two sisters. One of his brothers, Theo, be­came a school­teacher and was a key fig­ure in St Ni­cholas GAA Club (the sis­ter club to Glen Rovers).

With a father from Bantry and a mother from just east of Cork City, Jack was reared, as his friend Eamonn Young once said, in “an at­mos­phere rich with the na­tional tra­di­tions of the hills of West Cork and the echo­ing streets of older Cork”. Both left their mark.

In the Lynch house­hold, sport was the fam­ily’s con­stant talk­ing- point. Pol­i­tics was hardly ever dis­cussed. Con­firm­ing this years later, Jack told the Ir­ish Times in Jan­uary 1959: “I haven’t any idea what my father’s pol­i­tics were”.

Lynch was the prod­uct of what the late John Healy once called a “vil­lage cul­ture”. And the “vil­lage” of Black­pool sim­ply re­garded it­self not only as spe­cial but as the best.

Af­ter a stint in the civil ser­vice, Lynch was called to the Bar in 1945 ( he had stud­ied law for two years at UCC). Af­ter be­ing ap­proached by the lo­cal Black­pool cumann of Fianna Fail, Lynch won a seat in Dail Eire­ann in the 1948 elec­tion. Ea­mon de Valera came to Cork for the fi­nal rally in 1948 and that’s when Jack met him for the first time.

Years later he spelled out what Dev meant to him. The oc­ca­sion was the launch­ing of a book, De Valera and His

Times, at UCC on 12 Oc­to­ber 1983. Be­fore a distin­guished gath­er­ing, Lynch de­clared: “I am a life­long ad­mirer and sup­porter of Ea­mon de Valera, his ideals, his phi­los­o­phy and his poli­cies and will be for as long as I live.”

Af­ter hold­ing sev­eral min­is­te­rial po­si­tions, no­tably Edu- cation (1957-59), In­dus­try and Com­merce ( 1959- 65) and Fi­nance ( 1965- 66), Lynch suc­ceeded Sean Le­mass as Taoiseach in Novem­ber 1966. But long be­fore elec­toral suc­cess put Jack Lynch into the political sec­tions of the his­tory books, he had made an in­deli­ble mark in another sphere.

In 1946 Jack Lynch made sport­ing his­tory — Cork beat Kilkenny in the All- Ire­land Se­nior Hurl­ing fi­nal by 7-5 to 3- 8. And with that vic­tory Lynch at­tained the sin­gu­lar dis­tinc­tion of play­ing in six All-Ire­land fi­nals in a row and be­ing on the win­ning side in all six.

On the evening of Novem­ber20, 1990, he could be found do­ing two things he loved most — sip­ping a glass of Paddy whiskey and talk­ing about hurl­ing. The lo­ca­tion was the hos­pi­tal­ity room of the Beamish & Craw­ford Brew­ery (sadly now gone) on the North Main Street in Cork. And the oc­ca­sion was the launch­ing of a book by jour­nal­ist Ray­mond Smith en­ti­tled The Great­est Hurlers of Our Time. And not the only sur­prise of the night was the fact that, although Lynch had agreed to for­mally launch the book in re­sponse to an in­vi­ta­tion from Smith, he him­self was not in­cluded in Smith’s list of the 21 “great­est” hurlers.

The irony was not lost on Jack or of any of the other fa­mous hurlers who had gath­ered for the oc­ca­sion.

When Jack Lynch was asked af­ter­wards how he felt about his omis­sion from the list, he smiled coyly.

“These things are al­ways sub­jec­tive, aren’t they? But there are some on that list who wouldn’t meet my def­i­ni­tion of hurl­ing great­ness.”

Oth­ers present echoed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments. By any stan­dards, the omis­sion of Lynch was as­ton­ish­ing. And in ret­ro­spect, one would have to say it took some chutz­pah (“neck” they would say in Cork) for Smith to in­vite Lynch hav­ing, in ef­fect, snubbed him. It also says some­thing about Lynch that he ac­cepted read­ily in the cir­cum­stances. But then gen­eros­ity towards op­po­nents had al­ways been one of his char­ac­ter­is­tics — both in sport and pol­i­tics.

It all started in 1935. In his fifth year in se­condary school (the Nor th Mon) he was cho­sen for the Cork se­nior team ina league match against Lim­er­ick. He was pit­ted against no less an op­po­nent than John Mackey ( brother of the great Mick Mackey). “Ev­ery­thing must have gone right for me,” he re­called, “for I stayed on the Cork team un­til 1950.”

The fol­low­ing year, while still at school, he was on the cham­pi­onship side. “I think it was recog­nised fairly early on that I had abil­ity as a hurler and, frankly, I took ad­van­tage of this for miss­ing an oc­ca­sional class, as I used to have al­lowances made for me by teach­ers who were con­vinced I was oth­er­wise pre­oc­cu­pied, which may not al­ways have been the case.

“My older brothers, Theo, Char­lie and Fin­bar, had joined Glen Rovers at an early age and I did like­wise. There I came in con­tact with one of the great father-fig­ures of the Glen, Paddy O’Con­nell, who took a spe­cial in­ter­est in my progress, sug­gest­ing to me that I had some po­ten­tial.”

Paddy O’Con­nell held up Mickey Cross, the Lim­er­ick half- back, as the player to em­u­late. Jack Lynch learned well. He was one of the few Glen Rovers play­ers to col­lect eight suc­ces­sive Cork county se­nior medals, start­ing in 1934.

Dur­ing the fa­mous four-ina-row All-Ire­land hurl­ing fi­nals of 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944, he made another bit of GAA his­tory ( in 1944) when he played three games in one day. He turned out for the Civil Ser­vice club in the Dublin hurl­ing league in the morn­ing and, in the af­ter­noon, fig­ured with Mun­ster’s hurlers and foot­ballers in the Rail­way Cup cham­pi­onships.

In­ci­den­tally, he was on the win­ning side in all three.

“I came on to the Cork se­nior hurl­ing side dur­ing one of the county’s lean­est era in the sport. Cork had won the 1931 All-Ire­land ti­tle, but Lim­er­ick dom­i­nated hurl­ing in Mun­ster for most of the rest of the decade. I played with the Cork mi­nors in the early thir­ties, but un­for­tu­nately Cork were also eclipsed in the mi­nor sphere by Tip­per­ary. My first game

with the se­nior team was in the 1935-36 sea­son in the Na­tional League against that fa­mous Lim­er­ick side of that era.”

Cork won the Mun­ster cham­pi­onship in 1939, but were beaten by Kilkenny by a sin­gle point, scored in the last minute of the fi­nal in Croke Park. The game was played in atro­cious weather con­di­tions (know never since as the “thun­der-and-light­ning” fi­nal). The other dis­as­ter was the out­break of World War II on the same day: Septem­ber 3.

Although beaten by Lim­er­ick the fol­low­ing year in the Mun­ster fi­nal, Lynch felt Cork had an All- Ire­land win­ning com­bi­na­tion, es­pe­cially with the ad­vent of Christy Ring.

“Ring was one of the most ac­com­plished hurlers of all time, and I would omit the qual­i­fi­ca­tion were I not to know I would be ac­cused of bias. He had supreme con­fi­dence in his own abil­ity, re­fus­ing to be taken off a marker who may have been get­ting the bet­ter of him, feel­ing that he would turn the ta­bles sooner or later. And so, too, he of­ten did with a re­mark­able burst of sheer excellence that would turn the course of a game. He was by no means a hurl­ing ro­bot. He had a fine in­tel­li­gence and mar­vel­lous per­cep­tion.”

Lynch’s grave­side ora­tion in Cloyne at Ring’s fu­neral in March 1979 is still re­mem­bered in GAA cir­cles. But Lynch him­self joined Ring in the Team of the Mil­len­nium.

In De­cem­ber 1983, when Lynch was elected to the Tex­aco Hall of Fame, the broad­caster Micháel O’He­hir re­called his style of play and the spirit he in­stilled in col­leagues. “And he had time for ev­ery­one.”

The late Val Dor­gan, who played with Glen Rovers in the fifties, and who cov­ered GAA games for years for what was then the Cork Ex­am­iner, knew Lynch well.

“An Ado­nis-like fig­ure, he had a grace­ful style, to­tal ded­i­ca­tion and an in­nate sense of fair play. But no­body took lib­er­ties with Lynch.”

In the twi­light of his in­ter­county ca­reer as a hurler, when he was a TD, Jack Lynch played cor­ner- for­ward for Cork against Tip­per­ary on a day when Tony Red­dan was hav­ing an in­spired game in goal. Red­dan, widely re­garded as the great­est goal­keeper of all time, suf­fered from a speech im­ped­i­ment. Half­way through the sec­ond half, with the Cork for­wards frus­trated, Wil­lie John Daly, who was half- for­ward for Cork, ran into Lynch.

“Will you get into the square and do some­thing about Red­dan, he’s break­ing our hearts. Give him a dig or a box of the hur­ley.”

Lynch nod­ded. “Next time you get a ball out around the mid­dle of the field, lob a high one into the square and I’ll take care of Red­dan.”

Sure enough, four or five min­utes later Daly got pos­ses­sion and floated a high ball into the Tipp square. Red­dan was stand­ing un­der the drop­ping ball, wait­ing to grab it, when Lynch came charg­ing in from the left.

The Tip­per­ary keeper saw him com­ing out of the cor­ner of his eye, grabbed the ball, neatly side-stepped the charg­ing Lynch, and cleared the ball out the field.

Lynch missed the tackle and fin­ished up in the back of the net. As he was pick­ing him­self up, Red­dan, an­gry, turned to him. “F-fuck you Lynch,” he shouted. “The next f-fuck­ing time you try that there’ll be an early f-fuck­ing by-elec­tion in Cork!”

TP O’Ma­hony’s The Lynch Years was pub­lished by The Dol­men Press, Port­laoise, in 1986.

In the Lynch house­hold, sport was the fam­ily’s con­stant talk­ing-point. Pol­i­tics was hardly ever dis­cussed

Pic­ture: Ex­am­iner Archives

Pres­i­dent Pa­trick Hillery and Taoiseach Jack Lynch in Brus­sels on Jan­uary 22, 1972, sign­ing doc­u­ments to con­firm Ire­land’s en­try to the Euro­pean The Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity. the Treaty Treaty of Ac­ces­sion came into force on Jan­uary 1, 1973, with Ire­land, Bri­tain and Denmark for­mally join­ing the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ties.

Pic­ture: Ex­am­iner Archives

Taoiseach Jack Lynch in Dublin Air­port wel­com­ing Pope John Paul II at the out­set of his 1979 visit to Ire­land, the high point of which was the pa­pal ad­dress to one mil­lion peo­ple who gath­ered in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Pic­ture: Rolls Press/Pop­per­foto/Getty

Taoiseach Jack Lynch and Mar­garet Thatcher meet in Lon­don in 1977; she be­came Bri­tain’s first fe­male Prime Min­is­ter in 1979; be­hind is Airey Neave, Tory spokesman for North­ern Ire­land, right is Michael Kennedy, Ire­land’s Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs.

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