- The James Connolly 1916 Society Mhuineacháin held a series of commemorations over the Easter weekend, at the graves of Lawrence McNally in Tyholland, Jim Lynagh in Latlurcan and Sean McKenna in Clara. Large turnouts on each occasion bore testament to the high esteem all three are held in by the people of Monaghan and beyond. These patriots did not simply aspire to the freedom and unity of Ireland; they were totally devoted to it. The following oration was given at Jim Lynagh’s grave by his friend and comrade John Crawley.
Volunteer Jim Lynagh
Those who knew him have their own memories of Jim Lynagh. I first met Jim at a wedding in Ballinamore 35 years ago, I had just walked into John Joe McGirl’s pub and there he sat singing Sean South of Garryowen. He would have been about 24 years of age at the time and already a former prisoner of Long Kesh and a highly experienced IRA operative who had been seriously wounded on Active Service.
Jim was good craic, friendly and personable. I got to know him better in Portlaoise Prison, where he was the first man into my cell on the morning the heavy steel door opened to reveal the first of many days as a republican prisoner. Jim had been imprisoned again, this time in the South, and was the Unit Intelligence Officer who debriefed all new prisoners on issues relating to their capture and other matters. I was delighted Jim remembered me and he put me immediately at ease with his open and approachable manner.
Although one of the IRA’s most dedicated and experienced Volunteers, Jim Lynagh had none of the conceit or arrogance of lesser men. Extremely intelligent, with a cheeky and irreverent sense of humour, he did not suffer the pretentious gladly. He had a deep affinity with the underdog and a sincere social conscience.
Politically he was to the fore in discussions, debate and education in prison, so much so that after his death republican prisoners in Portlaoise inaugurated, in his honour, a yearly ‘Jim Lynagh Week’ consisting of political and historical lectures. He took his politics seriously but viewed political activism exclusively as an instrument for serving the struggle and not, as others were to prove, as a vehicle for servicing a political career.
Militarily Jim epitomised the concept of tip of the spear leadership – leadership by example. Highly motivated, dedicated and courageous, Jim was constantly to the fore on Active Service against the foreign forces of occupation and their native hirelings. He was greatly and rightly feared by the enemy, and the British Crown forces kept their spies and informers very busy in unrelenting efforts to track him down.
I’ll never forget shaking hands with Jim on the three’s landing the night before his release from prison and watching the blond head of him disappearing down the stairs to his cell on the landing below. I remember wondering would I ever see him again, not doubting for a moment that he would once again be leading from the very front.
Sadly, within a week of his release in April 1986 he was attending the funeral of his comrade and fellow Monaghan Volunteer Seamus McElwaine, who had been killed in action in a British Army ambush near Roslea. Just over a year later Jim himself would be dead, killed in another Crown forces ambush with seven other Volunteers at Loughgall. I am personally very proud to have known Jim Lynagh as a friend and comrade.
As we approach the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, beside the grave of this unconquered and unconquerable man, we might take a moment to remind ourselves of who we are as republicans, and what we represent. To an Irish republican, Ireland’s national rights and objectives are best articulated by the Proclamation of 1916. The Proclamation remains our most significant point of reference.
To members of non-republican and anti-republican nationalist parties, whose point of reference is the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 or the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, mention of Proclamation concepts such as ‘the whole nation and all of its parts’, and the notion of a ‘permanent National government… elected by the suffrages of all her men and women’, are blithely ignored. Their analysis asserts that partition, and particularly the two-state institutions buttressed by partition, are an achievement that ticks, if not all the boxes, certainly enough of the boxes to make the notion of any further struggle to achieve Unity rather redundant, if not irresponsible.
Far from being ‘oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past’, they legitimise the very mechanisms invented by Britain to harness these differences to British interests, by endorsing the Unionist Veto and accepting the artificial statelet that incubates and nurtures the sectarian dynamic in Irish politics.
The British government, for its part, concerned principly with matters of Crown sovereignty and maintaining the political and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, cares little about the mechanisms of local autonomy. They have evolved a multi-layered and coordinated approach to achieving British strategic objectives through the manipulation and co-option of indigenous leaderships, groups and movements.
The Proclamation of 1916, the 1918 election, the Declaration of Independence and the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil were answered by the British in 1920 with the Government of Ireland Act. That Act was the British government’s formal legislative declaration that it rejected the concept of majority all-Ireland opinion. At its core was Britain’s refusal to recognise Ireland as one democratic unit and the assumption that Westminster would define the parameters of Irish democracy and set the boundaries within which Irish opposition to British rule must operate. The Act, authored by an English Tory committee, without the input of a single Irishman, partitioned Ireland into a 26-County Southern Ireland and a 6-County Northern Ireland.
As a result of the Good Friday Agreement the British have annulled the 1920 Partition Act, principally because the Dublin government and all nationalist parties that support the Agreement have been co-opted to, and have formally endorsed and internalised, Britain’s interpretation of Ireland’s democratic limitations. They have acknowledged the Unionist Veto to the point that some are now claiming that Irish Unionists are British.
They have conferred the mantle of lawful authority upon Her Majesty’s Constabulary the PSNI who, like the RUC at 90 percent Protestant and the RIC at 80 percent Catholic, continue to stand in British armed opposition to the republican and democratic principles of the 1916 Proclamation.
Despite the deliberate misdirection and froth and fanfare at the dropping of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act the reality is that Britain’s claim to sovereignty in Ireland resides in the 1801 Act of Union, which remains firmly on her statute books. The Union flag inspired by that Act still flies on Irish soil.
The essence of republicanism is popular sovereignty, democracy and equal citizenship. In the context of Irish republicanism the core concept is that Irish constitutional authority emanates from the Irish people and does not rest upon laws or decrees originating in a Parliament in England. Freedom and democracy are not natural rights – they are political achievements. Republicanism is not a national definition but a civic one. It is a unifying concept based on interdependence as opposed to tribal commonality.
The exceptional republican leadership of 1916 knew that interdependence could only be nurtured within a national context and not a partitionist one. They were very specific about that in the Proclamation. Their objective remains our objective. We want to build a Republic of unity and national harmony, an Ireland that enjoys prosperity with social justice. That ideal is unachievable while the British government continues to divide the Irish people by politically, militarily and economically underwriting planter political culture and the sectarian headcount on which it is so crudely based.
There is great irony in the fact that since the joint referenda on the Good Friday Agreement the British government claims to be implementing and defending the democratic wishes of the Irish people. Few in the Irish media or political establishment would dispute that. Indeed a Fine Gael TD claimed that the results of the 1998 referenda were ‘the purest form of self-determination ever given by the Irish people’. Yet on four occasions British Colonial Secretaries, who between them had never received as much as a single vote in Ireland, were able to suspend the Good Friday institutions with a simple signature and reinstate direct British rule.
They are able to do this because in the Six Counties Irishmen may hold office but England holds power.
Irish republicans reject British interference in Irish affairs. We are wise to their strategy to mould Irish opinions and attitudes through their relentless campaign to shape the political and historical narrative. We must continue to work with republicans, of all parties and none, to develop strategies to counter this – regardless of how difficult that makes life for the carpetbaggers and con-men of ‘Pax Britannica’.
We must put an end to the UK veto on Irish democracy. There was no partitionist mentality before partition and no Northern Irish identity before the British invention of ‘Northern Ireland’ was gerrymandered into existence.
In order to make Irish republicans we must make an Irish Republic. An Irish republican identity will only become firmly rooted in the body politic when we have ended Crown dominion in Ireland and re-established Dáil Éireann as a National Parliament. Only then can the promise of the 1916 Proclamation come to fruition. Not an ‘Agreed Ireland’ – where the British stay and the Irish agree to it – but a United Ireland under a Government of National Unity.
The advent of the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising provides a great opportunity to re-state the republican case, to re-examine republican philosophy in the context of globalisation and changes in conceptions of popular sovereignty and democracy fostered by the growth of the European Union and other factors. To work toward making Irish republican concepts of full national freedom and democracy as relevant in 2016 as they were in 1916.
Today we remember Jim Lynagh and those who died with him under a hail of British Army bullets at Loughgall. We remember Lawrence McNally, Seamus McElwaine and other Volunteers with strong Monaghan connections such as Pete Ryan, Seamus and Dessie Grew, Kevin Barry O’Donnell and all those who fought and died for Irish freedom. We take inspiration from their courage and sacrifice and we promise to do our best to achieve their political goals.