Lynch is born on March 17, 1889 in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, the fourth son of Finian Lynch of Kilmakerin, Cahersiveen, a national teacher, and Ellen Maria Lynch (née McCarthy). Educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney, Rockwell College, County Tipperary, and Blackrock College, Dublin. He has plans to study medicine, but in 1907, when he is 18 years old, his father dies and he does not have the money to pursue this career path. He becomes a teacher in Swansea, south Wales, where he forms a branch of the Gaelic League and teaches the Irish language.
Lynch returns to Ireland in 1909, where he starts training as a teacher in St Patrick’s College, Dublin. He graduates in 1911 as a primary school teacher. In April 1912 he begins working as a national schoolteacher at St. Michan’s School, Dublin, becomes an active member of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League, and is recruited into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán Mac Diarmada. He also joins the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and becomes captain of F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. With Piaras Béaslaí he founds Na hAisteoirí, a drama company dedicated to the production of plays in Irish, with many of its members fighting during the 1916 Easter Rising. In the months before the rising Lynch temporarily stands down from the Volunteers after his school manager tells him he will be sacked if he does not. Learning that a rising was imminent, he rejoins the Volunteers, and over the Easter weekend commands the detachment that guards Bulmer Hobson to prevent him from interfering with Volunteer mobilisation. During the rising he is involved in heavy fighting in the North King Street area and is subsequently imprisoned.
Held at Lewes Prison, Lynch is released under the general amnesty. In August 1916 he is reimprisoned for making an inflammatory speech, and in September leads the Mountjoy Prison hunger strike with Austin Stack and Thomas Ashe. He is released in November following a further hunger strike at Dundalk prison. He is imprisoned again in May 1918 on the same charge during the ‘German Plot’ allegations and is released in August 1919, after which he helps to plan the escape of other prisoners.
Elected a Sinn Féin TD for South Kerry in December 1918 and for Kerry–Limerick West in May 1921, Lynch serves as assistant secretary to the Anglo-Irish Treaty delegation in London (October–December 1921), where he is largely responsible for organising the living arrangements at the two Irish headquarters. A supporter of the treaty, he addresses Pro-Treaty rallies with Michael Collins, and from January to August 1922 is Minister for Education with the Provisional Government, at the same time as Michael Hayes is Minister for Education for Dáil Éireann. Possible conflict is avoided by the pragmatic division of duties, under which Hayes takes responsibility for intermediate and higher education, and Lynch for primary education. It is also left to Lynch to clarify the relationship between the new Provisional Government and the board of commissioners of intermediate education, which is not abolished until 1923. These developments, however, are overshadowed by the beginning of the Irish Civil War, where military considerations take precedence over civic responsibilities.
Required to serve in the army, in July 1922 Lynch is appointed a vice-commandant of the south-western division with the rank of commandant-general, commanding a unit of Dublin soldiers in County Kerry, where on occasion he has to endure being ambushed, leading a fellow commandant to note ironically that his constituents do not seem to think much of him. However, the reluctance of former colleagues to attack him possibly ensure his survival during the war. Frank Henderson of Dublin’s No. 1 brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) tells Ernie O’Malley of his reluctance to become involved in reprisal shootings after Free State executions, commenting, “I didn’t like that order. I could have shot Eamonn Duggan and Fionán Lynch, for they went home every night drunk, but I left them alone.”
After the Irish Civil War Lynch is elected a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Kerry, a seat he holds until 1937, after which he represents the constituency of Kerry South (1937–44). He serves as Minister for Fisheries (1922–28) and Minister for Lands and Fisheries (1928–32), and retains his interest in education. He supports the Irish National Teachers‘ Organisation policy on the Irish language during the 1920s, commenting that he is entirely opposed to attempting to teach subjects through Irish where Irish is not the known language.
In 1931 Lynch qualifies as a barrister. After Fianna Fáil comes to power and during the rise of the Blueshirts he speaks at public meetings with Eoin O’Duffy, and they are attacked by a crowd in Tralee in October 1933. After the fall of O’Duffy and the reorganisation of Fine Gael, W. T. Cosgrave appoints a front bench designed to represent the various groups in the party, which witness former ministers, including Desmond FitzGerald, Patrick Hogan, and Lynch, relegated to the back benches. Lynch serves as Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil (1938–39). Having built up a legal practice, he retires from politics in October 1944 and is subsequently appointed a circuit court judge in the north-west district, retiring from the bench in 1959.
Lynch dies suddenly at his home in Dartry, County Dublin, on June 3, 1966, shortly after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. He is survived by his wife Brighid (née Slattery), a native of Tralee, and by their five sons and one daughter. His papers are on permanent loan to Kerry County Library archives.
(From: “Lynch, Fionán (Finian)” by Diarmaid Ferriter, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)