Name: Jack Lynch
Party: Fianna Fáil
Terms: November ’66-March ’73, July ’77-May ’79
So remember when Michael Jordan quit basketball and became a baseball player as depicted in the documentary Space Jam? Imagine if, instead of being awful, he had gone on to become one of the best players in that sport too. Then imagine he ran for election and became one of the most popular presidents in US history. That’s pretty much Jack Lynch.
Born in Cork, Lynch was an avid sportsman who excelled in both Gaelic Football and hurling. Gaelic Football is a version of football that allows hand-contact and where points and goals are both scored. Hurling is thirty men armed with clubs dancing with death itself. Lynch became the first man in history to captain both a senior hurling team and a senior gaelic football team and also the first and so far only athlete to win six consecutive All-Ireland finals and that is awesome and I don’t even like sport.
Not surprisingly, Fianna Fáil were very interested in running the hugely popular Lynch as a candidate and he joined the Dáil in 1948, eventually becoming Minster for Education where he spear-headed such crazy left initiatives such as allowing married women to work as teachers and permitting Jewish students to wear religious headgear in class.
Jack Lynch’s premiership came about, as most good things in this life do, as a result of fear and loathing of Charles Haughey. Taoiseach Séan Lemass resigned in 1966 and for the first time in its history there was a real leadership vacuum in the party. There were three candidates to replace Lemass; noted shark with legs Charles Haughey, Neil “The guy from the Arms Crisis who wasn’t Charles Haughey” Blaney and a guy called George Colley. Lemass was so horrified at the idea of Charles Haughey running the party that he went to Lynch to try and convince him to enter the leadership race.
Lynch somewhat reluctantly entered the race and Haughey and Blaney, realising which way the winds were blowing, smartly bowed out of the race. George Colley, however, didn’t have a clue which way the winds were blowing and stayed in the race, losing to Lynch by 52 votes to 19.
He didn’t want the job. He hadn’t asked for the job. But he had the job and by God he was going to make the most of it and Lynch proved himself one of our most effective and influential Taoisigh, ruling the nation with the kindly, patrician authority of a fifties sitcom dad.
The country was fortunate to have Lynch at the helm during possibly the most dangerous period in the State’s history since the Civil War; the onset of the Troubles. With the North going full on Bosnia, Lynch made an address to the nation (something very few Taoisigh have done) where Honest Jack told it like it was; The situation was a result of decades of anti-Catholic discrimination, the RUC had lost all credibility as a neutral police force, bringing British troops would only make things worse, time to call in the UN. He also included a line which made many people on the other side of the border very antsy, saying that Ireland “could no longer stand by” while Catholic neighborhoods were being attacked, which was taken as a hint that he planned to invade.
Of course, Lynch never planned to invade Northern Ireland.
I mean, sure, he had a plan to invade Northern Ireland called “Operation Armageddon” which would have involved commando teams of Irish special forces sabotaging strategic Northern Irish positions as a prelude to a full on invasion by the Irish army but that was just as a hypothetical. He never actually planned on using it, not least because invading a member of NATO is a real good way to get your teeth kicked in. Instead, Lynch responded to the crisis by establishing field hospitals on the border to treat as many refugees as possible while exerting as much political pressure as possible on the British government to get the situation under control. His leadership in this time of crisis was mature, measured and restrained and one can only shudder at what might have happened if someone else had been in charge during this time…
Lynch also oversaw Ireland’s entry into the EEC (the precursor to the EU), and frankly could have spent the rest of his term snorting ground-up puppies and quaffing the tears of orphans from a brandy snifter and still have been one of the best Taoisigh on the strength of that achievement alone. Instead though, he devoted his energies to providing free secondary school education, free school transport and a raft of measures to help single mothers and deserted wives. It wasn’t all good though. I’ve already described the Arms Crisis in Haughey’s entry and while Lynch’s government survived that scandal it did contribute to Fianna Fáil’s defeat in 1973 when Lynch lost to Liam Cosgrave for some ungodly fucking reason. As leader of the opposition, Lynch maintained sky-high popularity to the point where he was nicknamed “the Real Taoiseach” (oooooooh someone get Liam Cosgrave to the burn ward).
By 1977 the Irish people presumably sobered up, screamed “Oh God what did we do!?” and swept Lynch back into power. Lynch’s second government had to grapple with a fairly awful economy and while they managed to get unemployment down a bit they were faced with waves of street protests, the oil crisis and a deficit level of 17.6% which everyone though was really scary and oh, oh, you sweet summer children.
Making matters worse for Lynch, it was revealed in an American newspaper that he had agreed with Margaret Thatcher that British security forces could make use of Irish airspace near the border which put many of the more republican Fianna Fáilers in open revolt. Lynch was ready to throw in the towel, but was worried about potentially leaving the party in the hands of Charles Haughey. George Colley (remember him?) approached Lynch and asked him to retire early so that the party could hold a snap election, thereby catching Haughey unawares.
George Colley, the guy dumb enough to go up against Pipe-Smoking Irish Michael Jordan, was going to catch Charles “Machiavelli” Haughey unawares.
Guess if he caught him unawares.
You’ll never guess.
Lynch continued to serve as a TD until 1981 when he retired. He enjoyed a quiet retirement with his beloved wife Máirín until 1999 when he passed away, his funeral in Cork drawing some of the biggest crowds in the city’s history. He was, in the words of his old political rival Liam Cosgrave, “the most popular Irish politician since Daniel O’Connell”.
- It is remarkably difficult to find anyone with a bad word to say about him and his enormous personal charisma was a huge asset to both Fianna Fáil and the country in general. Lynch’s predecessor. Even Terrence O’Neill, the Unionist leader of Northern Ireland said: “I do not believe one could have a better Taoiseach than Mr. Lynch. It is not for nothing that he is known in the South as “Honest Jack”. Jeez O’Neill, if you love him so much why don’t you just marry him?
- I feel duty bound to remind you of the pipe.
- Tried to abolish proportional representation in favour of a first-past-the post system. PR is the best voting system in the world and this would basically have been the electoral equivalent of exchanging your top-of-the-line smartphone for two cups and a piece of string. Thankfully, he failed.
- The arms crisis. You know when you’re watching the old Transformers cartoon and you find yourself saying “Just shoot Starscream. Just shoot Starscream. He’s betrayed you already. He’ll betray you again. He’s probably thinking about betraying you right now. Just shoot Starscream.”? Replace “Shoot Starscream” with “Fire Haughey” and that’s pretty much the feeling I’ve been getting throughout this project. Lynch should have shit-canned Haughey within five seconds of hearing what he’d been up to and never allowed him to darken Fianna Fáil’s door again.