Gilbert Lynch- the Stockport Socialist in the Easter Rising.

Gilbert Lynch, the Stockport Socialist in the Easter Rising

This is the story of one of the  group of men who travelled from Manchester to Dublin in 1916 to fight in the Easter Rising. It is a story that had been hidden, suppressed and nearly forgotten. I only discovered the  facts through investigating the barely believable  tales told me by my father in law, whose Manchester cousin Liam Parr was reputed to have fought in the GPO. After many years of digging, we found that  the family rumours were truer than the history books and that not only did Liam Parr did serve in the Rising, but that he was there with  Gilbert Lynch, his friend from Stockport. This is a shortened version of Gilbert’s story.

12. Gilbert Lynch as an older man. ( Kate Hayes and Aindrias O Cathasaigh).jpg

Lynch’s life is particularly interesting as his  memoirs have survived and these show he was not just  an Irish nationalist, but also a socialist who also campaigned for  conscientious objectors,  worker’s rights and the Russian Revolution.  By following the life of Gilbert we can see the rising in its context in that age of revolutionary upsurge.[i]

 

 

In 1892 Gilbert Lynch was born into a working class, second generation Irish family in Stockport. At 14 he followed his father into the warehouse of the Reddish Spinning Company where he soon experienced his first strike. For the first time the women in the preparation side of the mill rejected the pay deal that had been negotiated by the male spinners on their behalf, and struck for 7 weeks. This points to a changing mood among working class women who had previously accepted the spinners deal without question. As a young lad, Gilbert most remembered this time because his work was stopped and he received layoff pay from the bosses as well as union strike pay making him better off than working. He remembered “the glorious weather…we enjoyed ourselves immensely”.

 

He became increasing committed to the Workers’ Union and was elected to the branch Committee and the Stockport Trades Council, as a part of which he helped organise the visits of James Connolly and Jim Larkin to Manchester during the 1913 Dublin Lockout.  He remembered hearing them both:  “The crowd was all round the square, and James Connolly was a quiet, logical man, basing his speech on the rights of workers to organise in order to obtain a decent standard of life. He dealt with the history of the dispute and the difficulties they were beset with. Eventually Jim Larkin came. One saw immediately that Jim Larkin was really the man they came to see, and he was entirely different to James Connolly. And as soon as he came in he called the crowd, and they all came round him. It was a tremendous meeting, one of wonderful enthusiasm, and no doubt the visit to Manchester was responsible for the sum of money that was raised in that city in the trade unions.”[ii]

The Manchester Guardian described the scene. .” He was welcomed with a strident roar as the car stopped, and in a moment he stood on a wooden chair, pouring out passionate pleadings coupled with denunciations. … His voice in the open air had the quality of being directed to each separate person. Almost every sentence evoked responses; cries, encouragements, sometimes protests, that he answered as if he were standing at the spot from which each came.”[iii]

13. Manchester Clarion Cafe.1913. from right.James Connolly, Bill Haywood, Williams, Jim Larkin. 2nd from left Ben Tillet.

James Connolly and Jim Larkin- Manchester Clarion Cafe 1913

Gilbert must have been inspired by the experience, but at this time he was still, like his father, an active member of the Liberal party. This only changed in about 1915 after he had been sold a book on Mersey Square in Stockport by a member of the Independent Labour Party.   “One night when I had nothing to do I started reading it, and became so engrossed in it that I stayed up all night reading it. It was ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ by Tressell. … It was the most human document that I have ever read – I could laugh and cry while reading it…….”[iv]

 

 

Lynch put his socialism into words a decade later in terms which could almost have come out of the book. “Capitalism is nothing more nor nothing less than a huge book-keeping system by which a worker is robbed of the fruit of his labours. Labour creates the whole of the wealth, even the natural resources are only potential wealth until such times as labour power is expended upon it, and then it becomes real wealth. Thus, we claim that all those who render useful and necessary services are entitled to a fair share, not only of the necessities of life, but also the luxuries of life.”[v]

 

 

Now he began to discover the community that local socialists enjoyed with activities like the Clarion clubs and the performances of Casey the Fiddler. Casey was a travelling musician, humourist, propagandist and writer for the Labour Leader who was based in Stockport. He had been born in Dublin but had come to Stockport as a child where he remembered being forced to climb the chimneys of Lyme Hall by his father, a chimney sweep. Now he travelled the country giving what were a combination of concert, humorous storytelling and political lecture. [vi]

18. Casey-Walter Hampson

 

Lynch’s nationalist ideas were becoming more radical in parallel with his political ideas. He had campaigned for the Irish parliamentary home rule party but in 1914 he helped form a Manchester company of the Irish Volunteers who went into the moors on Sundays to train. They had been formed to protect the limited Liberal Home Rule proposals, but many   hoped they would have a more significant role. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (or Fenians) which Gilbert also joined believed that physical force should be used by the Volunteers to directly seize Irish independence.

 

 

When WW1 began the Volunteer’s sergeant advised members that the war would be over in three months and they should join the British army to get some useful training.  Many volunteers followed his advice but Lynch spoke out against Irish recruitment at  a conference in Manchester addressed by the home rule leader John Dillon. Lynch remembered, “It wasn’t long before me and my pals were thrown out on the street. “

In spring 1916 Lynch had to make a momentous choice. “1916 was an event that changed the whole course of my life. Some of the members of the Stockport section of the Clarion … had arranged to go to the national meet which was held at Easter. I had arranged to go with them. My mother was not very happy about this as she was afraid that I might leave the straight and narrow path and be led away from my religion, but there was no danger of that.” [vii] (Lynch remained devoutly Catholic all his life even if some priests were un- comfortable with his politics.)

 

 

Instead of going on the Clarion weekend Lynch chose to go to Dublin smuggling weapons and ammunition. “About a week before Easter week it was decided that somebody would have to go over to Dublin and take some stuff over, and I was deputed to go. The man who was to meet me didn’t meet me, and therefore I was at a loss… “[viii] Lynch went to a hotel but “in his absence the police had raided the hotel and captured his stuff. Mick Collins very soon appeared on the scene, looking for Lynch…” Collins sent Lynch to a safe house “though there wasn’t much left of the cache of ‘war-materials’ which Lynch had just brought over from Manchester.” [ix]

 

 

Here he was met by his Stockport friend Liam Parr who was a native of Dublin so could show Gilbert around.  He introduced him to Sheila O’Hanlon, a friend of Liam who was an active member of the women’s organization Cumann na mBan who was mobilizing her squad in readiness for insurrection. The three of them attended a Gaelic League ceildh on Saturday night where Gilbert and Sheila danced until 6am, beginning a romance which would lead to their marriage in 1924.

 

 

Two days after the ceilidh, Gilbert was sent to Liberty hall and then to Church Street near the Four Courts where he spent Easter week behind barricades as the Irish Republic was proclaimed. The rebels were surrounded by vastly superior British Army numbers and fire power and were forced to surrender after nearly a week.  Unlike Sheila, Gilbert was not arrested as he had been slightly injured and had been sent to hospital where sympathetic health workers helped him escape pretending he was a tourist from Manchester. Sheila was in Kilmainham Jail where the women heard the shots as the rebellion’s leaders were executed by firing squad.

 

 

Lynch  returned to Stockport where he resumed working at the mill and  was active in both  the IRB and the ILP. He helped to support Irish prisoners like his friend Liam in Knutsford, Stafford and Frongoch and worked with Miss Mc Glynn and other Manchester women to smuggle weapons to Ireland. [x] The Stockport ILP’s minute books show strong opposition to the war, support for conscientious objectors and enthusiasm for the revolution in Russia mixed with all the normal minutiae of party political life like whist drives. The branch passed resolutions supporting Irish self-determination but  the minutes do not show Gilbert volunteering any personal knowledge in Irish affairs, presumably because his involvement in Easter Week would have been kept secret.  He helped organise  a “Hands off Russia” demonstration.  [xi]

 

 

By late 1918 Gilbert was working in Openshaw for Beyer Peacock and Company.    He was one of the shop stewards leading a delegation of munition workers to the town Hall protesting about their unemployment terms. The Manchester Evening News was clear where their sympathies lay when the demonstration was broken up by soldiers. “The soldiers, many of whom were in hospital blues, had the whole situation in hand and did practically what they liked in the Square. In a good-humoured way they pushed among the munitioners, argued with them, and eventually bundled many of them out of the Square altogether. There was no demonstration of violence except, of course, on the part of the victims of this determined counter demonstration.”[xii]

 

Lynch met more violence when speaking against the Irish parliamentary party. “I think it was in 1919 we decided that we would raise some opposition at this meeting. …I had a couple of lads on each side of me when I got up to make my objections, repudiating their right to speak on behalf of the people of Ireland – the people of Ireland had rejected the United Irish League… Eventually my pals were taken out, and eventually I was taken out. There were stone steps up to the gallery, and I remember on the last flight of steps four of them got hold of me and they threw me from the top to the bottom. I ached for weeks.” [xiii]

 

 

That same year a group of Irish prisoners were helped to escape from Strangeways Jail  by local supporters who pretended to be window cleaners and brought ladders up to the outside of the prison walls. Lynch helped carry messages to the prisoners using an engraved pocket watch to prove his identity to the prison authorities.”… it was presented to me by the police… when I was a young lad , about 17, the local policeman happened to be in trouble and was attacked by three burglars and I was passing and he called for assistance and I helped him and caught one of the burglars for the policeman; I got a gold medal and a chain and on account of that I got more facilities than anybody else…”[xiv]

 

 

During the increasingly violent war of independence, the Black and Tans were often carried in heavy trucks called Crossley Tenders which were being repaired in Stockport.  When he discovered  that the lorries were planned for Ireland he organise radical workers he had met through the  Hands off Russia Committee to secure “a certain amount of sabotage by putting iron filings in oil and grease when the lorries had been reconditioned, which held up the work…[xv]

 

 

During 1920 Gilbert was elected as secretary of the Centre Branch of the ILP. They discussed the motion ”that in the opinion of this conference the soviet form of government is the most practical and democratic form of government.” They repeatedly expressed their opposition to British intervention in Russia, Lynch being appointed to the United Socialist Council, an organisation attempting to work jointly with the British socialist party in an attempt to create unity on the left. The branch successfully pressurised the resignation of their MP, Mr Wardle, from the ILP mainly because of his support for the 1914-18 war. [xvi]

 

 

From April 1920 Gilbert Lynch made use of his links with the labour movement in Manchester and Liverpool to help organise strikes among Manchester and Liverpool Irish dockers in support of the demands of the hunger strikers.[xvii]  Among those working with the strikers were members of Industrial Workers of the World, (IWW often known as wobblies). He said it was “during the time of the hunger strike in Brixton, about April and May ’20. We were not very successful in Manchester but we were very successful in Liverpool and practically held up the port. For nearly a week it was at a standstill. “[xviii] The Chief Constable of Liverpool played down the effects, claiming that there were only about 1000 strikers and said, “it was mostly women and Jews who took part, and there was no disorder at all.’ [xix]

 

 

In 1920 there was a parliamentary by election in Stockport in which, Gilbert campaigned, not for the Labour party, but for William O’Brien, an imprisoned Dublin trade unionist. Their object was to use the election to raise the issue of Ireland in England, there being no realistic chance of O’Brien’s election. Despite having no contact with O’Brien who was on hunger strike in Wormwood Scrubbs, they managed to publish his election address. It began, “The great only appear great because we are on our knees…. The issue is whether the people of Ireland are to have their own free choice, without the interference of any Power, people or parliament, in deciding the form of government under which they live.”[xx]

 

 

Over the next six months Lynch could find no work in Manchester, believing himself to be blacklisted. In December he heard from Sheila O’Hanlon that both her brother and father had been arrested so Gilbert  went to Dublin at the height of the  violence of the Black and Tans.  He was offered a job in Galway working for ITGWU.  “I was only in Galway eleven days. I was taken out one morning for execution…The only thing that saved me was that four men came at the back and three at the front, one of the men at the back by the canal happened to be a Cockney and as soon as he heard my accent he said, ‘Where were you born?’ and I told him I was born in Stockport; only for that I would have been executed with the rest.” “[xxi]

 

 

Early in 1921 Lynch  went back to Manchester  where he took part in preparing  for the arson campaign that was being planned around Manchester ”While I did not take any actual part in the fires I helped on account of my local knowledge, I did a lot of reconnoitering in connection with it. “[xxii]

 

 

In April 1921 he permanently returned to Ireland working for ITGWU in Dundalk. “I eventually became a Republican judge when the Dail courts were set up..[xxiii] He remained there when the treaty was signed and took no part in the  Civil War.  Sheila O ‘Hanlon meanwhile had remained active in Dublin as part of Cumann na mBan. This organisation voted to oppose the treaty so Sheila served through the Civil War on the anti-treaty side ending up as courier to IRA treaty chief of staff Frank Aikin. She was imprisoned again, this time by the Free State.[xxiv]

 

In Spring 1924, Gilbert was working for  Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in Dublin and was  staying in digs in Rathmines in the same house as Mrs Connolly, James Connolly’s widow. This was a very difficult time for the Union as Jim Larkin returned from America and this split the union.  During that summer of 1924 Gilbert and Sheila decided to cement their eight year old relationship and get married. It was shortly after their marriage that the union moved him to Galway where he and Sheila remained until 1931. He was elected as a Labour party member of the Dáil in 1927 with the help of Cathal Shannon but lost his seat again a few months later in a snap election. During his time at the Dáil he was adamant that he “would only serve the class to which he belonged.” He supported a reduction in military spending “because I am opposed to the principle of an army,” He crossed swords with de Valera who was so angry that he described Lynch as a person a “dog would not lick his blood”. [xxv]

 

 

Gilbert and Sheila and their growing family moved back to Dublin and Lynch became a delegate  to and eventually president of the Irish TUC. Speaking on unemployment in 1936 he said: “…there can be no solution of the problem under the present social system. So long as the system remained unchanged they would always have unemployment…They had to realise that as long as capitalism could use the workers’ flesh and blood to make a profit they would do so, and they would do that no matter what colour the workers were. They had, therefore, to realise that their struggle the world over was the same…..”[xxvi]

 

 

Gilbert Lynch is the only Manchester Volunteer whose memories have been preserved. Almost nothing has survived of the words of his comrades so it has been impossible to do more than guess at their political and social opinions. All demonstrated their commitment to the Irish rebellion during Easter week and during the gruelling period of the War of Independence but we cannot know how many shared Lynch’s socialism. None became prominent in political life after the formation of the Free State, but this could be explained by the poor health that most suffered as a result of their privations.   Previous studies have tended to assume that participants in the Rising were either the socialists of the Citizen Army or the nationalists of the Volunteers. While the Volunteers  included many like  de Valera whose politics and social attitudes were deeply conservative, we don’t know how many  besides Lynch  combined   a progressive political agenda with devout Catholicism and  wholehearted Irish nationalism. I hope that others discover more of the experiences and attitudes of other grass roots volunteers.

 

There is a book and a website about the Volunteers from the Manchester area and their role in the Easter Rising. We would love to hear from anyone who can add to the story. The website is at

https://hiddenheroesofeasterweek.wordpress.com

[i] Stocks,Robin: Hidden Heroes of Easter week-Memories of volunteers from  England who joined the Easter Rising, Pub Robin Stocks.2015,Denby Dale.

[ii] Lynch, Gilbert;ed O Cathasaigh, Aindrias; The life and times of Gilbert Lynch; Irish Labour History society. 2011;Dublin

[iii] Manchester Guardian 17 Nov 1913

[iv] Lynch, Gilbert;ed O Cathasaigh, Aindrias; The life and times of Gilbert Lynch; Irish Labour History society. 2011;Dublin

[v] Speech  Lynch made in 1925, quoted on page 7 of Lynch, Gilbert;ed O Cathasaigh, Aindrias; The life and times of Gilbert Lynch; Irish Labour History society. 2011;Dublin

[vi] Hampson, Walter, (Casey) A Wandering Minstrel I,  undated,The Deveron Press, Turriff

[vii] Lynch,Gilbert-  The life and times of Gilbert Lynch.Ed Ó Cathasaigh,Aindias,DublinIrish Labour History Society.2011;

[viii] Lynch,Gilbert-  The life and times of Gilbert Lynch.Ed Ó Cathasaigh,Aindias,DublinIrish Labour History Society.2011;

[ix] Good, Joe. Enchanted by dreams. The journal of a revolutionary, Brandon, Dingle, Co Kerry. 1996

[x] Gilbert Lynch pension application MSP34 REF41334

[xi] Stockport ILP minutes. Stockport archives.

[xii] Manchester Evening News 7 December 1918

[xiii] Lynch, gilbert. The life and times of gilbert Lynch. Ed. Ó Cathasaigh, Aindrias. Irish labour history Society. Dublin 2011

[xiv] Lynch Gilbert. Pension application MSP34REF 41334

[xv] Gilbert Lynch pension application MSP34REF41334

[xvi] Stockport ILP minutes. Stockport archives.

[xvii] Gilbert Lynch pension application MSP34REF41334

[xviii] Gilbert Lynch pension application MSP34REF41334

[xix] McConville, Sean.Irish political prisoners 1848-1922. Theatres of War

[xx]  Manchester Guardian 23 march 1920

[xxi] Gilbert Lynch pension application MSP34REF41334

[xxii] Gilbert Lynch pension application MSP34REF41334

[xxiii] Gilbert Lynch pension application MSP34REF41334

[xxiv] Sheila Lynch pension application, MSP34REF2399

[xxv] Lynch, gilbert. The life and times of gilbert Lynch. Ed. Ó Cathasaigh, Aindrias. Irish labour history Society. Dublin 2011

[xxvi] Lynch, gilbert. The life and times of gilbert Lynch. Ed. Ó Cathasaigh, Aindrias. Irish labour history Society. Dublin 2011