10 August 2006 Edition
Interview: Gerard Lynch, brother of Hunger Striker Kevin Lynch.
A man of steel.
Gerard Lynch talks to Ella O'Dywer about his brother, Hunger Striker and INLA Volunteer Kevin Lynch.
Kevin Lynch was the youngest of a family of eight, five boys and three girls. Gerard was the second youngest. They were not just brothers, but friends. Four of the Lynch brothers worked in England in the building trade and while there they got involved locally in Gaelic games, mainly with St Dympna's Club in Luton, members of whom extended their sympathy to the family on Kevin's death.
The Lynch brothers never lost their sense of identity while abroad and now and again, as Gerard put it, they'd "have defended Ireland's honour" in one way or another. "Never run away" was the Lynch motto and they didn't. Gerard was living in England at the time of the Hunger Strike and he talked of isolation and a sense of despair. Kevin had also spent time in England with his older brothers and got engaged there. In fact the familiar photo of Kevin seen on Hunger Strike poster was of him on his engagement.
But as Gerard put it, "the call was too strong" in Kevin and he returned to Ireland and got involved in the struggle. Gerard recalled how proud and particular about his appearance Kevin was, along with his fun loving nature. He remembered an occasion when Kevin and three other Irish lads got their heads shaved for a bet. "Kevin was a big lad", Gerard recalled. Well into the Hunger Strike his physical presence was striking. "He had a tattoo on his arm and I remember putting my arm beside his and commenting that Kevin's was still wider than mine". Kevin Lynch survived for 71 one days on the fast.
Kevin Lynch's passion was sport and Gerard remembered a visit to his brother at the latter stage of the Hunger Strike. Gerard was filling him in on the local news, not least the sports results. He remembers Kevin's arm shooting up in the air "so strong" and it reminded him of the well known photo of Kevin holding the cup aloft after the All Ireland under 16s hurling cup in Croke Park in 1972. Gerard couldn't emphasise enough the strength of his younger brother. "Around the 46 day mark I went in to visit Kevin. The dinner was left at the end of the bed." Gerard said "I couldn't do what you're doing", to which the Hunger Striker replied, "You would if you were in here."
Asked how he and the rest of the family coped when the anniversary came round, he said: "You tend to put it to the back burner, but there's not a day goes by but you think of him." The Lynchs are a very close-knit family and share their views, thoughts and memories. As Gerard was talking, his sister Bridie recalled an incident that illustrates something of the fun loving, affectionate nature of Kevin and his inclination to 'devilment'. "One evening the lads went out for a couple of drinks. A popular Charlie Pride number called All I Have to Offer You is Me, was often aired on the radio around that time. When they came home and arrived into the kitchen, Kevin grabbed my mother, lifted her up and waltzed her around the room."
Strength combined with joyfulness is how the Lynch family recall the youngest of their household. Both Kevin's parents were alive in 1981. "It was heartbreaking to watch them", Gerard recalled. "Over the years my mother began to question whether or not she should have intervened and prevented Kevin's death. I reminded her that she had given her word to Kevin and that he, like herself, was a person who would never break his word and once he had gone on the fast he would not break. He didn't pick his determination and strength off an apple tree."
Gerard felt that his family had come under heavy pressure from the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), an organisation largely influenced by the Church. "They were well meaning people, but they were hoodwinked and I told them so." Kevin's parents were very religious and on one occasion when Gerard was going to
"have words" with the local priest, his father told him to leave the priest alone; "you might need him yet."
Gerard remembers one occasion, on his way to visit Kevin in the hospital wing, being made aware that negotiations to end the Huger Strike were going nowhere. Gerard went into his visit with Kevin and quietly told his brother. Discreetly so that the screws couldn't hear, he said: "It looks like you are going to die." At that Kevin thought for about ten or twelve seconds. The Hunger Strikers were allowed a cigarette, each signed for in a book, and sometimes the allotment stolen by the screws. "Kevin took his left hand and put it behind his head . He took a great big draw of the cigarette he was smoking and said: If I have to die I will."
" I knew the man very, very well. We were going about together a hell of a lot. We were good friends you know, apart from brothers, I knew there was no coming back."
Like other relatives of the Hunger Strikers, the men are remembered for their determination and their ability to strengthen those around them. Gerard had met Thomas McElwee and Big Doc briefly in the hospital as he went to visit Kevin in the hospital wing of the Blocks. "I went in with, how would you describe it? - compassion and a kind of futile hope wanting to comfort him. At that stage he was going down. I went in a despairing man and came out a man of steel."