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JOHN LYNCH - Sligo Labour Leader.  (1876-1939)

Official histories have tended to ignore the bitter struggles faced by ordinary workers and their families in their bid to survive.   The labour movement in Connacht has a magnificent history and one of its most distinguished leaders was Alderman John Lynch.

John Lynch was born in Maugherow, in North Sligo in 1876, and as a youth he worked as a deck-hand on the Sligo harbour tug boat.  Late he worked on the small boats (lighters) which transferred cargo from the larger vessels at Rosses Point to Sligo port.  He then went to sea for a number of years.

On returning to Sligo he became immersed in the labour and national movement and he was a founder member and first Branch Secretary of the Sligo branch of the ITGWU, which was established on the 17th of September 1911.   Sligo was one of the first towns outside Dublin and Belfast where the ITGWU organised and the Sligo branch soon became one of the most active in the country.

Lynch became one of Connolly’s trusted lieutenants and despite significant opposition from the political establishment, church and employers he helped organise the transport union in many parts of the country including Derry, Waterford and Limerick.

Lynch was first elected to Sligo Corporation in 1913 the same year as the famous Sligo Dock Strike.  During the same period he organised one of the few units of the Irish Citizen Army established outside Dublin.

On the 5th of April 1914 Lynch was one of the union’s main speakers at an Anti-Partition rally in Dublin – the rally marked the first occasion on which the Citizen Army carried its new flag “the Plough and the Stars”.

It was also in 1915 that Lynch was first elected to the National Executive Committee of the ITGWU.   After the 1916 Rising and the turmoil that followed Lynch was one of the most active members of the Executive in re-organising the union.

As a local level he organised new branches of the union in Maugherow, Ballisodare, Lisadell, Manorhamilton, Collooney, Riverstown, Carrick-on-Shannon.

He played a prominent role in Sligo in the national independence struggle and the anti-conscription movement and as a result of his political and union activities he found himself in Court on a regular basis and he was imprisoned on a number of occasions.

In the local elections of 1920 he was elected to the first “Republican” County Council.

When the ITGWU split, Lynch sided with Jim Larkin and attempted to form a branch of the Workers Union of Ireland in Sligo.  He was appointed to the General Executive Council of the WUI in May 1925.

John Lynch continued to play a leading role in the labour, trade union and political life of Sligo and the North West during the 1920’s and 30’s.  He served on Sligo County Council until 1934.  He was Mayor of Sligo in 1931, 1932 and 1933 and he was a member of Sligo Harbour Board and Sligo Corporations until his death in 1939.

In its edition of the 16th of December 1939, the “Sligo Independent” describing his funeral said: “As a labour leader and politician and member of many public bodies the late Alderman Lynch was widely known.   On Friday afternoon last with flags at half mast on the Town Hall and Court House the last journey of Alderman Lynch started from the Cathedral.  The funeral which winded its way through the street of Sligo was a solemn and impressive tribute by the citizens of Sligo to one of its greatest figures…

“Leading the funeral were the Mayor Mr Flanagan and members of the Corporation and with these marched Mr Jim Larkin, the well known Labour leader.  The coffin was draped in the tri-colour and a guard of honour of Old IRA under Mr Joseph Pilkington marched with reversed rifles…”

Today, in a new millennium, when we hear the unwritten stories of strikes and lock-outs, of blacklegs and heroes, of victories and defeats, passed onto us by word of mouth from the veterans of those early days, it is important that we recognise the role played by socialists of the calibre of John Lynch.  He and his colleagues will always have a special place in the annals of the Irish Labour movement