Jack Lynch (1917-1999) was an Irish sportsman, lawyer and politician. He served two terms as Republic of Ireland taoiseach, both during critical periods of the Troubles (1966-1973 and 1977-1979). John Mary Lynch was born in Cork during World War I, the youngest of five boys in a middle class family. He was educated at a Christian Brothers school in Cork before obtaining work as a public servant. As a young man Lynch was an outstanding sportsman, excelling at Gaelic football and hurling. Between 1941 and 1946 Lynch played in six All-Ireland championships, five in hurling and one in football. He also studied law during this period and was called to the bar in 1945. Lynch held political ambitions and in 1948 he was elected to the Dáil Éireann, a victory aided by his high profile as a sportsman. Between 1957 and 1966 he held four different ministerial portfolios including finance and education.
Lynch became Fianna Fáil leader and Irish taoiseach in November 1966, following the resignation of Seán Lemass. Many considered Lynch an ambivalent, softly spoken figure who lacked the strength and political will for effective leadership. This was a gross underestimation of his capabilities. As taoiseach Lynch sought to ease tensions by building better relationships with Belfast. He visited Stormont in December 1967, held talks with Unionist prime minister Terence O’Neill and had his car pelted with snowballs by Ian Paisley. When violence erupted in Ulster in August 1969 Lynch talked tough on television, declaring that his government “can no longer stand by and see innocent people being injured or perhaps worse”. He established mobile army hospitals on the border for Catholics fleeing violence in Ulster but resisted calls to send troops into Northern Ireland. In May 1970 Lynch sacked two of his ministers after it was revealed they were helping supply arms to the Provisional IRA.
Fianna Fáil was defeated at election in February 1973 and Lynch was replaced as taoiseach by Liam Cosgrave. Lynch returned to power in July 1977, his second term lasting two and a half years. His final weeks in office were spent negotiating better cross-border security arrangement with the Thatcher government. Lynch resigned as taoiseach in December 1979 and retired from the Dáil Éireann in 1981. He was active in business and commentary for a decade until affected by poor health. Jack Lynch died in Dublin in October 1999, aged 82. He was honoured with a state funeral and interred in his native Cork.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn & S. Thompson, “Jack Lynch”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/northernireland/jack-lynch/.