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Jack Lynch
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Jack Lynch

John Mary "Jack" Lynch (Ir Seán Ó Loingsigh) (15 August 1917 - 20 October 1999), was the fourth Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. He served two periods in office; 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1979. Lynch was first elected as a Fianna Fáil TD in 1948 and at each subsequent election until 1981. He served as Minister for Education (1957-1959), Minister for Industry & Commerce (1959-1965) and Minister for Finance (1965-1966). He became the third leader of Fianna Fáil in 1966. Lynch was also a successful Hurling and Gaelic football star, winning All Ireland Medals for both sports.

An Taoiseach Jack M. Lynch, T.D
Rank:4th Taoiseach
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
Place of Birth:Cork, Ireland
Date of Death:October 20, 1999
Place of Death:Dublin, Ireland
Political Party:Fianna Fáil

Table of contents
1 Early Life
2 Early Political Life
3 First Term as Taoiseach
4 Lynch in Opposition
5 Second Term as Taoiseach
6 Stepping Down as Leader
7 The Real Taoiseach
8 Retirement
9 Cabinet November 1966 - July 1969
10 Cabinet July 1969 - March 1973
11 Cabinet July 1977 - December 1979
12 Lynch's Governmental Positions
13 Additional Reading

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.

Early Political Life

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.

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. Lynch was apprehensive about accepting a Cabinet position because it meant that his law career would have to come to an end. However, he felt that once the position was offered to him he couldn't refuse.

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. He was described as not being the most innovative of ministers but was particularly attentive when it came to legislation and detail. In 1965 Lemass was again reelected as Taoiseach. The big change in his Cabinet was that Lynch was appointed Minister for Finance, replacing one of the party's old guard, James Ryan. This appointment was significant because Lemass was coming to the end of his premiership and he wanted to prepare a successor. As a result Lynch took charge of the second most important position in the Government.

When 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. Haughey nad Blaney stepped aside however Colley refused to. Lynch decisively beat Colley and became the third leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach on 10 November 1966.

First Term as Taoiseach

Because Lynch was elected as somewhat of a compromise candidate it appeared to many that he would only remain as an interim Taoiseach. This thought couldn't be further from his mind. Lynch took particular exception to the title Interim Taoiseach or Reluctant Taoiseach. He had no intention of stepping aside after a few years. Lynch adopted a chairman-like approach to government allowing his Ministers a fee run. Young ministers like Donagh O'Malley, Charles Haughey and Brian Lenihan adopted a modernising and liberal approach which was supported by Lynch.

During Lynch's first period as Taoiseach the "troubles" in Northern Ireland began. He resisted attempts by more hardline ministers to launch a military invasion of Northern Ireland. He had to find a balance between the hawks, such as Charles Haughey, Neil Blaney and Kevin Boland and the doves, scuch as George Colley, Patrick Hillery and Brian Lenihan, in his government. In 1969 Lynch made a broadcast to the nation on RTÉ commenting on the ever-increasing violent situation in Northern Ireland. He used forceful language but it was language whch fell short of inflaming tensions. The speech went as follows:


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.

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.

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.

One of the high points of Lynch's first term as Taoiseach was Ireland's entry into the EEC. Ireland officially joined along with our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom and Denmark, on January 1, 1973. This was the culmination of a decade of preparation and one of the most significant events in modern Irish history.

Lynch in Opposition

Lynch's government was expected to collapse following the Arms Trial, 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 began its comeback by securing the election of its candidate, Erskine Childers to become President of Ireland in 1973, defeating the odds-on favourite, the National Coalition's Tom O'Higgins. However, Childers died the following year and had to be replaced by Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1975, to much media criticism, Lynch rehabilitated Charles J. Haughey, bringing him back to his party's Shadow Cabinet as spokesman on Health. In 1976 President Ó Dálaigh resigned in controversial circumstances after being called a thundering disgrace by the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. Dr. Patrick Hillery then became the sixth President of Ireland.

Second Term as Taoiseach

In 1977, Lynch and Fianna Fáil won an unprecedented twenty seat majority in the 148 seat Dáil. 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. This manifesto led to the party winning such huge support. Lynch was unhappy about the scale of the victory having preferred a smaller majority himself. The economy did well in 1978 but things started to go downhill afterwards.

Stepping Down as Leader

Following the huge victory in 1977 Lynch announced that he intended to retire midway through the term. January 1980 was the date he had set. That would mean that he would serve out his full term as President of the EEC for the second half-year of 1979 and it would also allow his successor almost two years before the next general election. However, 1979 proved to be a tough year for Lynch.

Lynch 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. 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. He was in the United States when the news came through of the poor election results. Lynch knew that it was now time to go. When he returned from the US he resigned as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil.

Lynch resigned a month earlier than planned in the expectation that his Tánaiste, George Colley, would succeed him.. However, Charles Haughey was the eventual victor.

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 impropriety 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.


Following his retirement from politics Lynch still commented on current affairs. He was supportive of Desmond O'Malley when he was expelled from Fianna Fáil in 1985. However, he never broke his silence on the events surrounding the Arms Crisis.

In retirement Lynch received many accolades and awards. In 1984 the GAA celebrated its centenary. Lynch was selected as a member of the Hurling Team of the Century. He received a huge round of applause from the crowd present when he was called onto the field at Semple Stadium. In 1997 Cork Corporation decided to honour one of the city's favourite sons by naming the newly-built tunnel under the river Lee after him. The Jack Lynch Tunnel was officially opened in 1999.

Jack Lynch died on Wednesday October 23 1999 in Dublin. He was honoured with a full state funeral on October 23 in the North Cathedral of his native city, Cork. The funeral was attended by President McAleese, an Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, former President Patrick Hillery, former Taoisigh Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds and John Bruton and representatives from the GAA. Following the mid-day service in the Cathedral the cortege moved to St Finbarre's Cemetery where the remains of the late Taoiseach were laid to rest. Desmond O'Malley, one of Lynch's closest political allies and personal friends, delivered the graveside oration.

At the time of his death Lynch was survived by his wife, Máirín. They had no children. On the evening of June 8, 2004 Máirín Lynch herself died peacefully aged 87.

Cabinet November 1966 - July 1969


Cabinet July 1969 - March 1973


Cabinet July 1977 - December 1979

Lynch's Governmental Positions

Preceded by:
Patrick Lindsay
Minister for the Gaeltacht
Followed by:
Micheál Ó Moráin
Preceded by:
Richard Mulcahy
Minister for Education
Followed by:
Patrick Hillery
Preceded by:
Sean Lemass
Minister for Industry & Commerce;
Followed by:
Patrick Hillery
Preceded by:
James Ryan
Minister for Finance
Followed by:
Charles Haughey
Preceded by:
Sean Lemass
Followed by:
Liam Cosgrave
Preceded by:
Liam Cosgrave
Opposition Leader
Followed by:
Garret FitzGerald
Preceded by:
Liam Cosgrave
Followed by:
Charles Haughey

Additional Reading