#OTD in 1923 – Liam Lynch, chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army, is mortally wounded by Free State troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains, Co Tipperary.

Liam Lynch was born in Barnagurraha, Co Limerick. He joined the Irish Volunteers after witnessing the arrests of the Kent family by British forces after the failed Easter Rising of 1916. Two of the Kent brothers, David and Richard were shot during their arrest. Richard would later die of his wounds and a third brother, Thomas, was executed by Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

During the Irish War of Independence Lynch helped to reorganise the Cork IRA, becoming commandant of the Cork No. 2 Brigade. He was arrested by the RIC in August 1920 in Cork City, along with Terence MacSwiney, who would later die in Britain during a hunger strike. Lynch was not recognised by RIC officers and was released. Lynch continued to prove his leadership abilities throughout the war including the capturing of the Mallow Barracks in September 1920 with Ernie O’Malley. In April 1921, the IRA was re-organised into divisions and Lynch was made Commander of the 1st Southern Division. He would hold this post until the truce in July 1921.

Lynch opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on 6 December 1921. Much of the IRA, of which Lynch was Chief-of-Staff, was opposed to the treaty. As the country moved towards civil war in 1922, the majority of the former republican forces elected Lynch as Chief of Staff of the republican forces at a Dublin convention. Lynch was initially opposed to the occupation of the Four Courts on 14 April 1922, but when the Free State forces attacked in June, Lynch joined the garrison. When the ‘Provisional Government’ with British artillery, opened fire on the Four Courts, and the civil war became a fact, Lynch assumed command of his old division. He was arrested after the garrison fell, but was released under the condition he would stop the fighting. Lynch initially sought to avoid a civil war. At the same time he was unwavering in his effort to achieve a thirty-two country republic rather than a broken, partitioned land which, he well knew, would only lead to future bloodshed through subsequent generations until the country was eventually reunified and independent.

Lynch returned to the south of Ireland not to stop the fighting but to encourage the creation of “Munster Republic”, dedicated to the ideals of the proclamation of a Republic made during the Easter Rising. Short on weapons, ammunition, and men, Lynch mounted a defensive campaign. He located the headquarters of the Anti-Treaty IRA in Limerick. It would not remain there for long. When Limerick fell to Free State forces on 20 July 1922, the headquarters was moved to Fermoy in Co Cork. Cork City fell to the Free State on 8 August 1922 and the Anti-Treaty forces were forced to engage in a defensive guerrilla war against an enemy who not only had superior numbers and weapons but had intimate knowledge of tactics employed by the Anti-Treaty forces. It was during this guerrilla phase of the war that the leader of the Free State forces, and former comrade, Michael Collins was killed in an ambush at Béal na mBláth. A meeting of Anti-Treaty leaders, including Lynch, was taking place nearby. Facing increasing attacks, the Free State Army, now led by Richard Mulcahy, pushed through the Dáil the Public Safety Bill in October 1922. This bill allowed for the detention of any anti-treaty forces engaged in attacks against Free State forces or anyone in possession of a firearm. The government could imprison or execute anyone detained under this act. In response, Lynch issued a General Order on 30 November 1922 which sanctioned the killing of any Free State TD or Minister who signed or voted for the Public Safety Bill. This led directly to the assassination of TD Sean Hales, whose brother Tom was part of the Anti-Treaty forces, on 7 December 1922. The next day four Anti-Treaty officers who had been captured in the Four Courts were executed by the Free State.

By early 1923 Lynch came under increasing pressure from some of his fellow officers to call for a cease fire. Lynch refused. On this day in 1923, Lynch was cornered by Free State troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains in Co Tipperary. He was shot and died later that night in Clonmel. He was only 29 years old. He was buried in Fermoy. Frank Aiken took over as Chief-of-Staff of the Anti-Treaty forces after Lynch’s death. On 30 April 1923, he called for a cease-fire, ending the Irish Civil War.

On 7 April 1935 a monument to Liam Lynch was dedicated near the spot where he fell.

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