Ryan, Meda  

Liam Lynch – The Real Chief: Irish Revolutionary


A biography of one of Irelands greatest guerilla commanders.

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Liam Lynch was an officer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the commanding general of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army during the Irish Civil War. He reorganised the Cork Volunteers in 1919 and commanded an effective Brigade in the War of Independence. He was a member of the Irish Republican Army Supreme Council, Chief of Staff of the IRA, established the IRA Executive in March 1922. He was an influential opponent of the 1921 Treaty.

With the aid of Liam Lynch's personal letters, private documents and historical records, Liam Lynch: The Real Chief traces the turbulent career of one of Ireland's greatest guerilla commanders from his birth in 1893 until his death twenty-nine years later in the civil war when he was killed in action on the Knockmealdown mountains.

This book demonstrates Liam Lynch's importance in Irish history, including his efforts with Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy and others to avoid a civil war, and his unwavering efforts to achieve a thirty-two county republic, rather than a partitioned state. Part of the Irish Revolutionaries series being published in the run-up to the centenary of the 1916 rising.


Liam Lynch, chief-of-staff of the Irish Republican Army, rested with two of his travelling companions, Frank Aiken and Seán Hyde, in a house on the banks of the River Tar at the foot of the Knockmealdown mountains. It was the eve of 10 April 1923.

Before dawn they were awakened and told that Free State troops had been sighted. Liam and other members of the Executive had assembled by 5 a.m. at Houlihan's, the house nearest the mountains. As they waited for further reports they sipped tea. These men were not unduly alarmed as all of them had, on more than one occasion, stood on the precipice of danger; raids of this nature were an almost daily occurrence, so believing that they had left no trace of their presence, they decided to wait.

A scout rushed in at about 8 o'clock with news that another column of Free State troops was approaching over the mountains to their left. Their line of escape was endangered. After months of Civil War, fellow members of the Republican Executive had finally persuaded Liam Lynch that a meeting was imperative, and because of this a number of members were now caught with their backs to the mountain; Liam Lynch had always feared this type of situation. Though the Free State government was bent on crushing the 'armed revolt' and forcing the opposition into an unconditional surrender, Lynch had pledged that he would not surrender: 'We have declared for an Irish Republic and will not live under any other law.'

Since the execution of four Republican prisoners on 8 December 1922 as a reprisal for the shooting of Seán Hales, a member of the Dáil, much of the conflict had begun to lack human dignity; the rules of war were being flouted. Already Liam Deasy, imprisoned Republican Executive member and former brigade adjutant, had been compelled to avail of the only option his captors left open to him; he had signed a dictated document which called on his fellow members of the Executive to agree to an unconditional surrender.

By January 1923 over fifty Republican prisoners had been executed and more had been sentenced to death (eventually a total of seventy-seven prisoners were shot as reprisals, though Ernest Blythe gave eighty-five as the number of prisoner executions). Before his capture, Deasy and most of the Executive had come to the conclusion that further bloodshed would be in vain since it had become evident that for them a military victory was no longer a possibility.

However, Liam Lynch was determined that 'the war will go on until the independence of our country is recognised by our enemies, foreign and domestic.' He was well aware that if a meeting of the Executive was called, he would have to listen to the words 'unconditional surrender' and these were hateful to him. He had fought too hard, suffered too much, to concede all with the stroke of a pen. More than most men of the period, he had tried several avenues to secure a consensus in an effort to avoid Civil War. But when the break came he channelled his energies totally into the ideal of a thirty-two-county Irish Republic.

ISBN 9781856359924


About The Author

Meda Ryan was born in West Cork and educated at University College Cork and New York City College. A historian and journalist, she is the author of many books, including The Tom Barry Story, The Day Michael Collins Was Shot and Michael Collins and the Women in His Life. She now lives with her family in Ennis, County Clare.