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Jack Lynch

John Mary "Jack" Lynch (15 August 1917 - 20 October 1999) was the fourth Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. He served two periods as Taoiseach; 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1979. He was also a successful hurling and gaelic football star, winning All Ireland Medals for both sports.

An Taoiseach Jack Lynch
First Term:November 10 1966 - March 14 1973
Second Term:July 5 1977 - December 11 1979
Predecessors:Sean Lemass, Liam Cosgrave
Successors:Liam Cosgrave, Charles Haughey
Date of Birth:August 15, 1917
Date of Death:October 20, 1999
Place of Birth:Cork, Ireland
Political Party:Fianna Fáil

Early Life

John Mary Lynch was born on the 15 August 1917 in Cork City. From his youth he was known as Jack. Jack was the youngest of seven children and was always regarded as the wild boy of the family. He was educated in Cork at the North Monastery Christian Brothers School. He sat his Leaving Certificate in 1936 and applied for a job in the Civil Service.

From his youth Jack showed accomplishment as a sportsman. His particular passion was for hurling, however he also enjoyed rugby, soccer and gaelic football. Jack captained the Cork Hurling team in 1939, 1940 and 1942. He was a prominent member of the team also when Cork won the All-Ireland Finals in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1946. Jack won an All-Ireland Football Final with Cork in 1945.

Jack Lynch began working on the Cork Circuit Court Staff as a clerk. This was when he decided on a career in law. He enrolled in University College Cork in 1941 and decided to study for the Bar. He completed his studies at Kings Inns in Dublin in 1946 and qualified as a barrister. He set returned to Cork and set up his own practice there. In August 1946 he married Máirín O Connor.

Becoming a TD

In 1946 Lynch was asked by his local Fianna Fáil cumann to stand for the Dáil in a by-election. He declined because he felt he had very little politcal experience, however he did indicate that he had an interest in standing as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the next general election. In February 1948 the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, called a surprise general election. This time Lynch allowed his name to go forward for election. He won the Dáil seat convincingly, topping the poll with 5,594 first preference votes. Unfortunately Fianna Fáil lost power. Lynch spent his first few years as speechwriter and research assistant for de Valera.

Joining the Cabinet

In 1951 de Valera returned as Taoiseach. Lynch was offered the new post of Parliamentary Secretary to the Government. This job involved the development of Gaeltacht areas. Between 1954 and 1957 Fianna Fáil were in opposition again and Lynch was Fianna Fáil spokesman on Gaeltacht affairs. In 1957 Fianna Fáil were back in power and Lynch became Minister for Education and the Gaeltacht. This was not seen as a terribly important portfolio at the time, however, Lynch approached his new job with vigour.

In 1959 Sean Lemass became Taoiseach. Lynch was promoted to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Lemass' old portfolio. Lynch inherited the most dynamic department in the government, however, having replaced Lemass Lynch felt that his own scope for change was severely limited. In 1965 Lynch was appointed Minister for Finance in Lemass' third government. As Minister for Finance Lynch accompanied Lemass to London for trade talks with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Fianna Fáil Leader & Taoiseach

When Taoiseach Sean Lemass retired unexpectedly in 1966, the leadership race (the first contested race in the history of the party) was expected to involve Charles J. Haughey, Neil Blaney, George Colley and possibly others. Lemass, distrustful of the candidates emerging, sought a compromise candidate. When Patrick Hillery (the future President of Ireland) declined to seek the leadership, Jack Lynch reluctantly emerged to take it on. He decisively beat the one other challenger to stand, George Colley, and became the third leader of Fianna Fáil on 10 November 1966.

Northern Ireland

During Lynch's first period as Taoiseach the "troubles" in Northern Ireland began. In 1969 Lynch made a broadcast to the nation on RTÉ commenting on the ever-increasing violent situation in Northern Ireland:

The Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse. It is obvious that the RUC is no longer accepted as an impartial police force. Neither would the employment of British troops be acceptable nor would they be likely to restore peaceful conditions, certainly not in the long term. The Irish Government have, therefore, reqested the British Government to apply immediately to the United Nations for the urgent dispatch of a Peace-Keeping Force to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland and have instructed the Permanent Representative to the United Nations to inform the Secretary General of this request. We have also asked the British Government to see to it that police attacks on the people of Derry should cease immediately. Very many people have been injured and some of them seriously. We know that many of these do not wish to be treated in Six County hospitals. We have, therefore, directed the Irish Army authorities to have field hospitals established in County Donegal adjacent to Derry and at other points along the Border where they may be necessary. Recognising, however, that the re-unification of the national territory can provide the only permanent solution for the problem, it is our intention to request the British Government to enter into early negotiations with the Irish Government to review the present constitutional position of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. These measures which I have outlined to you seem to the Government to be those most immediately and urgently necessary. All men and women of goodwill will hope and pray that the present deplorable and distressing situation will not further deteriorate but that it will soon be ended firstly by the granting of full equality of citizenship to every man and woman in the Six Counties area regardless of class, creed or political persuasion and, eventually, by the restoration of the historic unity of our country.

Arms Crisis

Lynch was seen initially as a weak compromise leader, surrounded by men of far more ability. However he showed his leadership skills and determination when in 1970, amid allegations (later disproved in court, though questions since have emerged challenging that verdict in one case), that the hardline republican Minister for Agriculture, Neil Blaney and the Minister for Finance, Charles Haughey, were involved in illegal attempts to import arms for the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland. Lynch sacked both ministers (he had retired his innocent but incompetent Minister for Justice, Micheál Ó Moráin the previous day). A fourth minister, Kevin Boland resigned in disgust. The affair became known as the Arms Crisis.

Crisis in the North

He also faced crises over the deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland, where Bloody Sunday (where civilians were killed by the British Paratroop Regiment) and the campaign of violence by terrorist organisations such as the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Defence Association, led to the abolition of the Stormont home rule government in Northern Ireland and the danger of civil war in the North that could spread to the south also.

Lynch in Opposition

Lynch's government was expected to collapse, but it survived until 1973, when it was defeated in a general election by the National Coalition of Fine Gael and Labour under Liam Cosgrave. Lynch remained as Leader of the Opposition. In opposition, Fianna Fáil begun its comeback by securing the election of its candidate, Erskine Hamilton Childers to become President of Ireland in 1973, defeating the odds-on favourite, the National Coalition's Tom O'Higgins. In 1975, to much media criticism, Lynch rehabilitated Charles J. Haughey, bringing him back to his party's Shadow Cabinet.

Taoiseach Again

In 1977, Lynch and Fianna Fáil won an unprecedented twenty seat majority in the 148 seat Dáil Éireann. He remained on as leader for two more years. Though the outgoing National Coalition was relatively unpopular and Fianna Fáil probably would have won the general election in any case, it put forward a controversial economic manifesto that led to government spending and borrowing increasing at an unprecedented and unsustainable pace.

In 1979, having ran an unsuccessful European Elections campaign, to elect fifteen MEP's (Member of the European Parliament) from Ireland, and also having suffered two disastrous by-election defeats in his native Cork, pressure mounted on Lynch to step down as leader.

Stepping Down as Leader

He also faced strains in Anglo-Irish relations, following the murder in County Sligo of Earl Mountbatten, uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh and mentor of The Prince of Wales. To everyone's surprise he did retire (he himself had planned to do so in 1980), in the expectation that his Tánaiste (deputy prime minister, pronounced 'taw-nish-te'), George Colley would succeed him. Lynch named four possible candidates in the leadership contest - George Colley, Charles Haughey, Desmond O'Malley and Michael O'Kennedy. A fifth candidate would have been Brian Lenihan. However Colley was easily beaten by Charles J. Haughey. Lynch retired from Dáil Éireann in 1981.

The Real Taoiseach

Lynch was described by his political rival, Liam Cosgrave, as 'the most popular Irish politician since Daniel O'Connell'. His economic manifesto in 1977 is generally seen as foolish and misguided mistake which damaged the Irish economy for nearly two decades. His handling of the crisis that engulfed Northern Ireland in the late 1960s has been criticised, as was his rehabilitation of Charles J. Haughey, who has since been embroiled in allegations of financial inpropriety while Taoiseach. Nevertheless, Lynch remains regarded as a respected and popular Irish leader, 'Honest Jack', 'the Real Taoiseach' and the 'reluctant Taoiseach' who, with his calm demeanour, his soft Cork lilt in his voice, and his ever present pipe, came to personify decency and honesty in Irish life.


Jack Lynch died on Wednesday 20 October 1999 in Dublin. He is survived by his wife, Máirín. They had no children.

Additional Reading

Preceded by:
Sean Lemass
Taoiseach (1959-1966)
Prime Ministers of Ireland
Taoisigh na hÉireann
Succeeded by:
Liam Cosgrave
Taoiseach (1973-1977)
Preceded by:
Liam Cosgrave
Taoiseach (1973-77)
Prime Ministers of Ireland
Taoisigh na hÉireann
Succeeded by:
Charles Haughey
Taoiseach (1979-1981)