A loyal, determined republican
with a great love of life
THE EIGHTH republican to join the hunger-strike for political status,
on May 23rd, following the death of Patsy O'Hara, was twenty-five-year-old
fellow INLA Volunteer Kevin Lynch from the small, North Derry town of
Dungiven who had been imprisoned since his arrest in 1976.
A well-known and well liked young man in the closely-knit community of his
home town, Kevin was remembered chiefly for his outstanding ability as a
sportsman, and for qualities of loyalty, determination and a will to win
which distinguished him on the sports field and which, in heavier times and
circumstances, were his hallmarks as an H-Block blanket man on hunger strike
to the death.
Kevin Lynch was a happy-go-lucky, principled young Derry man with an
enthusiastic love of life, who was, as one friend of his remarked - a former
schoolteacher of Kevin's and an active H-Block campaigner: "the last person,
back in 1969, you would have dreamed would be spending a length of time in
The story of Kevin Lynch is of a light-hearted, hard-working and lively
young man, barely out of his teens when the hard knock came early one
December morning nearly five years ago, who had been forced by the British
occupation of his country to spend those intervening years in heroic refusal
to accept the British brand of 'criminal' and in the tortured assertion of
what he really was - a political prisoner.
Kevin Lynch was born on May 25th, 1956, the youngest of a family of eight,
in the tiny village of Park, eight miles outside Dungiven. His father,
Paddy, (aged 66), and his mother, Bridie, (aged 65), whose maiden name is
Cassidy, were both born in Park too, Paddy Lynch's family being established
there for at least three generations, but they moved to Dungiven twenty
years ago, after the births of their children.
Paddy Lynch is a builder by trade, like his father and grandfather before
him - a trade which he handed down to his five sons: Michael (aged 39),
Patsy (aged 37), Francis (aged 33), Gerard (aged 27), and Kevin himself, who
was an apprenticed bricklayer. There are also three daughters in the family:
Jean (aged 35), Mary (aged 30), and Bridie (aged 29).
Though still only a small town of a few thousand, Dungiven has been growing
over the past twenty years due to the influx of families like the Lynches
from the outlying rural areas. It is an almost exclusively nationalist town,
garrisoned by a large and belligerent force of RUC and Brits. In civil
rights days, however, nationalists were barred from marching in the town
Nowadays, militant nationalists have enforced their right to march, but the
RUC still attempt to break up protests and the flying of the tricolour (not
in itself 'illegal' in the six counties) is considered taboo by the loyalist
bigots of the RUC.
Support in the town is relatively strong, Dungiven having first-hand
experience of a hunger strike last year when local man Tom McFeeley went
fifty-three days without food before the fast ended on December 18th. Apart
from Tom McFeeley and Kevin Lynch other blanket men from the town are
Kevin's boyhood friend and later comrade Liam McCloskey - himself later to
embark on hunger strike - and former blanket man Eunan Brolly, who was
released from the H-Blocks last December.
Kevin went to St. Canice's primary school and then on to St. Patrick's
intermediate, both in Dungiven. Although not academically minded - always
looking forward to taking his place in the family building business - he was
well-liked by his teachers, respected for his sporting prowess and for his
well-meant sense of humour. "Whatever devilment was going on in the school,
you could lay your bottom dollar Kevin was behind it," remembers his former
schoolteacher, recalling that he took great delight in getting one of his
classmates, his cousin Hugh ('the biggest boy in the class - six foot one')
"into trouble". But it was all in fun - Kevin was no troublemaker, and
whenever reprimanded at school, like any other lively lad, would never bear
Above all, Kevin was an outdoor person who loved to go fishing for
sticklebacks in the river near his home, or off with a bunch of friends
playing Gaelic (an outdoor disposition which must have made his H-Block
confinement even harder to bear).
His great passion was Gaelic games playing Gaelic football from very early
on, and then taking up hurling when he was at St. Patrick's.
He excelled at both.
Playing right half-back for St. Patrick's hurling club, which was
representing County Derry, at the inaugural Feile na nGael held in Thurles,
County Tipperary, in 1971, Kevin's performance - coming only ten days after
an appendix operation - was considered a key factor in the team's victory in
the four-match competition played over two days.
The following season Kevin was appointed captain of both St. Patrick's
hurling team and the County Derry under-16 team which went on in that season
to beat Armagh in the All Ireland under-16 final at Croke Park in Dublin.
Later on, while working in England, he was a reserve for the Dungiven senior
football team in the 1976 County Derry final.
Kevin's team, St. Canice's, was beaten 0-9 to 0-3 by Sarsfields of Ballerin,
and he is described in the match programme as "a strong player and a useful
hurler". Within a short space of time after this final, Kevin would be in
jail, as would two of his team mates on that day, Eunan Brolly and Sean
The qualities Kevin is remembered for as a sportsman were his courage and
determination, his will to win, and his loyalty to his team mates. Not
surprisingly the local hurling and football clubs were fully behind Kevin
and his comrades in their struggle for the five demands, pointing out that
Kevin had displayed those same qualities in the H-Blocks and on hunger
He was also a boxer with the St. Canice's club, once reaching the County
Derry final as a schoolboy, but not always managing as easily as he achieved
victory in his first fight!
Just before the match was due to start his opponent asked him how many
previous fights he'd had. With suppressed humour, Kevin answered
"thirty-three" so convincingly that his opponent, overcome with nervous
horror, couldn't be persuaded into the ring.
At the age of fifteen, Kevin left school and began to work alongside his
father. Although lively, going to dances, and enjoying good crack, he was
basically a quiet, determined young fellow, who stuck to his principles and
couldn't easily be swayed.
Like any other family in Dungiven, the Lynches are nationally minded, and
young Kevin would have been just as aware as any other lad of his age of the
basic injustices in his country, and would have equally resented the petty
stop-and-search harassment which people of his age continually suffered at
the hands of Brits and RUC.
The Lynches were also, typically, a close family and in 1973, at the age of
sixteen, Kevin went to England to join his three brothers, Michael, Patsy
and Gerard, who were already working in Bedford.
Both Bedford and its surrounding towns, stretching from Hertfordshire to
Buckinghamshire and down to the north London suburbs, contain large Irish
populations, and the Lynches mixed socially within that, Kevin going a
couple of times a week to train with St. Dympna's in Luton or to Catholic
clubs in Bedford or Luton for a quiet drink and a game of snooker. He even
played an odd game of rugby while over there.
But Kevin never intended settling in England and on one of his occasional
visits home ("he just used to turn up"), in August 1976, he decided to stay
Shortly after his return home, coming away from a local dance, he and nine
other young lads were put up against a wall by British soldiers and given a
bad kicking, two of the lads being brought to the barracks.
Kevin joined the INLA around this time, maybe because of this incident in
part, but almost certainly because of his national awareness coming from his
cultural love of Irish sport, as well as his courage and integrity, made him
determined to stand up both for himself and his friends.
"He wouldn't ever allow himself to be walked on", recalls his brother,
Michael. And he had always been known for his loyalty by his family, his
friends, his teammates, and eventually by his H-Block comrades.
However, within the short space of little more than three months, Kevin's
active republican involvement came to an end almost before it had begun.
Following an ambush outside Dungiven, in November '76, in which an RUC man
was slightly injured, the RUC moved against those it suspected to be INLA
activists in the town.
On December 2nd, 1976, at 5.40 a.m. Brits and RUC came to the Lynch's home
for Kevin. "We said he wasn't going anywhere before he'd had a cup of tea",
remembers Mr. Lynch, "but they refused to let him have even a glass of
water. The RUC said he'd be well looked after by then."
Also arrested that day in Dungiven were Sean Coyle, Seamus McGrandles, and
Kevin's schoolboy friend Liam McCloskey, with whom he was later to share an
Kevin was taken straight to Castlereagh, and, after three days' questioning,
on Saturday, December 4th, he was charged and taken to Limavady to be
remanded in custody by a special court. The string of charges included
conspiracy to disarm members of the enemy forces, taking part in a
punishment shooting, and the taking of 'legally held' shotguns.
Following a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Belfast, he was tried and
sentenced to ten years in December 1977, immediately joining the blanket men
in H3, and eventually finding himself sharing a cell with his Dungiven
friend and comrade, Liam McCloskey, continuing to do so until he took part
in the thirty-man four-day fast which coincided with the end of the original
seven-man hunger strike last December.
Since they were sentenced in 1977, both Dungiven men suffered their share of
brutality from Crumlin Road and Long Kesh prison warders, Kevin being 'put
on the boards' for periods of up to a fortnight, three or four times.
On Wednesday, April 26th, 1978, six warders, one carrying a hammer, came in
to search their cell. Kevin's bare foot, slipping on the urine-drenched cell
floor, happened to splash the trouser leg of one of the warders, who first
verbally abused him and then kicked urine at him.
When Kevin responded in like manner he was set upon by two warders who
punched and kicked him, while another swung a hammer at him, but fortunately
missed. The punching and kicking continued till Kevin collapsed on the
urine-soaked floor with a bruised and swollen face.
In another assault by prison warders, Kevin's cellmate, Liam McCloskey,
suffered a burst ear-drum during a particularly bad beating, and is now
permanently hard of hearing.
Even as long ago as April 1978, just after the 'no wash' protest had begun,
Kevin was reported, in a bulletin issued by the Dungiven Relatives Action
Committee, to "have lost a lot of weight, his face is a sickly white and he
His determination, and his sense of loyalty to his blanket comrades, saw him
through, however, even the hardest times.
His former H-Block comrade, Eunan Brolly, who was also in H3 before his
release, remembers how Kevin once put up with raging toothache for three
weeks rather than come off the protest to get dental treatment. It was the
sort of thing which forced some blanket men off the protest, at least
temporarily, but not Kevin.
Eunan, who recalls how Kevin used to get a terrible slagging from other
blanket men because the GAA, of which of course he was a member, did not
give enough support to the fight for political status, also says he was not
surprised by Kevin's decision to join the hunger strike. Like other blanket
men, Eunan says, Kevin used to discuss a hunger strike as a possibility, a
long time ago, "and he was game enough for it".
Neither were his family, who supported him in his decision, surprised:
"Kevin's the type of man", said his father, when Kevin was on the hunger
strike, "that wouldn't lie back. He'd want to do his share."
In the Free State elections, in June, Kevin stood as a candidate in the
Waterford constituency, collecting 3,337 first preferences before being
eliminated - after Labour Party and Fianna Fail candidates - on the fifth
count, with 3,753 votes.
But the obvious popular support which the hunger strikers and their cause
enjoyed nationally was not sufficient to elicit support from the Free State
government who share the common, futile hope of the British government - the
criminalisation of captured freedom fighters.
The direct consequence of that was Kevin's death - the seventh at that stage
- in the Long Kesh hospital at 1.00 a.m. on Saturday, August 1st after
seventy-one days on hunger strike.