A passion for GAA and politics

When Republican Sinn Fein Councillor, Sean Lynch lost his seat on Longford Co Council last year it ended the Lynch family’s seventy year link with local government.

From an early age, Sean Lynch has been a staunch Republican, and his life long friendship with RSF leader, Ruairi O’Bradaigh, was at the heart of these beliefs. That passion for politics is probably only eclipsed by his love of the GAA.

Sean Lynch, farmer, politician and Republican, was born on February 18, 1933 in Cleenrath, Aughnacliffe. One of eight, Sean, the third youngest, had two brothers and five sisters and was, he admits, born into a very different Ireland.

Sean recalls walking over the fields and bogs to get to primary school in the, now defunt, Puladoey N.S where he was taught by Master McGee, as well as two of his relatives; Rose Lynch, his aunt-in-law, and his aunt, Sissy O’Reilly, from Cunnareen.

After his spell at Pulladoey, he then attended the Latin School in Moyne for a number of years, then went on to Longford to learn the bar trade. There, he worked in an establishment owned by Mary-Ann Hourican, but found that working in a bar interfered with the greatest love of his life at the time: GAA!
Sean jokes that he didn’t like when his shifts began to interfere with his training and so he decided to leave the hotel and catering industry. Afterwards, he went on to find a job which was more amenable to the sport and began working with Devine’s in Longford, an establishment which operated a travelling shop and egg export company. Sean trained to be an egg-tester, completing a course in Claremorris and gaining a certificate in the trade. He also accompanied the travelling shop across much of the midlands and the west; spending a lot of time in Roscommon, selling groceries and buying eggs from the local women who bred chickens for the purpose.

Sean recalls this time with great fondness, recounting the fun he had and the great variety of people he met at the time. Sean also remembers the time, during the fifties, as the “golden age of Colmcille GAA”, and remembers with nostalgia his participation in the sport.

He played on the first minor team set up in Colmcille in 1949, which went on to win the league in 1950, which he maintains was the premier competition of the time. “We won it when every team was at full strength, it was during the summer when the college boys were able to play, unlike the Championship, which was during the winter, when they wouldn’t have been able to participate”.

I can see Sean’s eyes widen wide glee as he recounts this, almost as if fifty years haven’t gone by at all and he is still back on the pitch, scoring points for Colmcille. Around the time, Sean also became involved in the training and preparing of teams, helping to coach the 1953 Colmcille Minor team to victory in the Championship.

This was also the decade when Colmcille won two senior championships; in 1952 and again in 1958. During this time, Sean graduated to Junior level, and played alongside his brother, Brian. He also went onto become the longest serving secretary of the Colmcille GAA Club, enjoying both the physical and clerical aspects of football.

Sean admits to being completely passionate about football at this time and also became a county delegate for both the minor and senior boards, as well as being a selector on a county minor board team in 1953. “Football was great entertainment for people at the time; it kepts us all out of mischief”, Sean says fondly, recalling the evenings spent kicking a football around on Kiernan’s field opposite the church.

Sean was also instrumental in the building of Fr McGee Park in Colmcille, which he describes as being “one of the biggest events to happen in Colmcille at the time”, and he is still a trustee of the park. “Fr Phil McGee was a tireless worker for GAA and it was only right and proper that he was remembered in this way”, says Sean.

There was, of course another passion in Sean’s Lynch at the time, politics and Irish history. Raised in a staunchly Republican household, Sean was raised on a diet of rebel songs, Fenian stories and Gaelic folklore.

Indeed, as I chat with Sean he directs me to a framed poster of a Sinn Fein meeting in Ballinamuck in 1918 which featured Michael Collins as the chief speaker and Sean’s father, Sean Snr, as one of the local speakers. It cannot, then, be surprising, that even as a young man, Sean himself, would have grown an interest in the heady world of politics.

Sean recalls a strong political background on both sides of his families; his mother’s family had strong links with the Fenian movement in the nineteenth century, and he also had uncles and cousins on both sides of the family who had taken part in the Ambush of Clonfin.

In 1955, Sean joined Sinn Fein, at the age of 22. It was here that he became acquainted with Ruairi O’Bradaigh whose father, Matt Brady was from the townland of Gelsha in Colmcille. In fact, Sean recalls a time when Matt had been injured in an ambush on RIC members during the War of Independence and that his father had gone to Ballinagh in order to find a doctor for him. So, even back then a strong bond of friendship and loyalty had been formed between the two families.

Years later, when Ruairi stood for election in the district of Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Sean electioneered for him there, as well as electioneering for Bobby Sands.

On May 26, 1969 the day his father died, Sean’s life was to change dramatically. Sean Snr had worked as an independent Sinn Fein Councillor for 35 years, from 1934-1969, and now there was both a political vacuum as well as a personal one.

Sean gave up his job working with Devine’s which he had retained during the sixties and took over the running of the family farm. He would also, no doubt, have stepped into his father’s political shoes on the County Council had he been co-opted, but, in fact, this was not to be the case.

Instead, Fianna Fail took the seat ( Fine Gael had backed Sean but FF, who were in the majority on the Council, voted against this), and Sean was left in the shade.

It was not until June 1974, that Sean could win back the seat, a seat many already felt should have been his in the first place. On this date, Sean Lynch topped the poll.

The next election in 1979, was a slightly closer affair, with Sean winning his seat on the third count. In 1980, Sean was elected chairman of the Co. Council, a period which Sean describes as the “golden years” of his political career. He recalls it as the only time in the history of Longford Co Council that the committees were spread out evenly between the various parties - “everybody goy an equal share”.
It was also at the time, in the early eighties the Northern Ireland, and in particular, the Hunger Strike was at its height. In the summer of 1981, Sean worked as election agent for the hunger striker, Martin Hurson, a young man from Cappagh in Co.Tyrone who ran for election in the Longford/Westmeath District. After just a fortnight of electioneering, Hurson had pulled in 4,573 first preference votes, although it wasn’t enough to get him elected. On July 15, 1981, the young hunger striker died in the H-Block section of Long Kesh prison.

Sean recalls this with a mixture of pride and sadness; pride at the support he, and supporters of Hurson had managed to whip up over just fourteen days, but sadness that this young man had died in such a tragic way. Although he never met Martin, he did meet most of his family members who thanked him for all the hard work he had displayed during the election period.

The next local election which Sean himself had to face was in 1985, and on that occasion, he lost. Sean cites the change in boundaries as a large factor in defeat; certain areas of Colmcille were amalgamated into the Granard electoral district during this period, meaning that Sean lost out a large support base in his own parish.

This, in fact, was the second time the boundaries had been changed in Sean’s career; in 1974, four townlands in the Granard area had been removed from Sean’s electoral district, and this second removal was a strong blow to his support base.

In 1986, Sean sided with Ruairi O’Bradaigh when the TD rejected Sinn Fein’s decision to obolish abstentionism and formed his own party, Republican Sinn Fein. This, he tells me, was less to do with his enduring friendship with O’Bradaigh, and more to do with the fact that this was a basic rejection of Republican ideals. Sean himself does not recognise the Dail, since it only represents 26 of the 32 counties, and he feels that Gerry Adams “went down the wrong road” at this time - just like FG in 1922 and FF in 1926.

In fact, it is clear that Sean is Republican to his very core; he tells me that he is as proud of his relatives who fought in the battle of Clonfin as he is of those uncles and aunts who worked in religious orders across the world. According to Sean, he “learned history from people who helped to make the history”, and seems particularly proud of his grandmother, Katie Brady, a teacher from Granard, who he describes as a “real Republican”. He and fellow members of Republican Sinn Fein want a 32-county Ireland, “with no shortcuts”, although he does admit that it looks unlikely at the present moment.
In, a slightly surprising turn, Sean also tells me that some of his best friends are Protestants, and doesn’t like labelling people either Protestant or Catholic. He even cites, Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish Republicanism as being of Protestant stock.

What Sean wants, he tells me, is a thirty-two county Republic where Protestants and Catholics would live together in harmony.

But returning to Sean’s own political career, in 1991, Sean managed to win back his seat because, by this time, Sean tells me, he had gotten to know the people of the Drumlish electoral district and had won their support. In 1999, he won again, beating the FF candidate Benny Reid after a number of re-counts.

Which takes us up to last year, 2004, which unfortunately, Sean lost to FF candidate Martin Mulleady. Sean is quite philosophical about the defeat. I always did my best down the years and don’t have any regrets about my time in the Council, so I didn’t feel too bad when I lost, I had a clean conscience.”
Asked about his finest achievements in politics, Sean tells me he’s had a few.

He recalls a time in the seventies, when he managed to have townlands in his district reclassified as “severely handicapped” economically, thus enabling the farmers there to receive higher grants.
He was also extremely involved in the Loch Gowna Water Scheme which his father had actually started. After that, Sean himself, worked on every occasion to have it extended, and refurbished.
In Aughnacliffe and Perth, he was also involved in the granting of public lighting; and he also pushed for lighting at Legga and Moyne churches.

Sean also always supported rural housing and road maintenance, as well as local improvement schemes, and was a strong supporter of North Longford as a tourist destination, describing it as “ the Killarney of the Midlands”.

Sean tells me, that from a very young age, he always felt that he was very much a “community person” wanting to help and support the people with which he lived. He tells me that he inherited his hard-working ethos from his dad, who he is still extremely proud of.

Now that he’s out of politics, Sean says that much of his time is taken up with farming, which he still retains a keen interest in, although he tells me he does get a bit of time to do some reading and to practice his Irish, which he is fluent in.

A bachelor all his life, Sean describes himself as having being “married to the job” over the years! And asked whether he’ll run again, he casts me a wry smile, before saying jovially, “You know something, I think I’ll leave that in the hands of the Lord!”

Courtesy of The Longford Leader
8th April 2005
By Bernice Mulligan