Dr. Kathleen Florence Lynn (1874-1955)

Patriot, Medical Doctor, Political & Social Activist, Humanitarian

Kathleen Lynn, the second of four children, was born to Catherine Lynn (nee Wynne) on January, 28, 1874 in Mullaghfarry, Co. Mayo.

Lynn’s mother, Catherine Wynne, was a descendent of the Earl of Hazelwood whose estate, located within a few miles of Sligo town, dated back to the Cromwellian plantation in the 17th century.

Lynn’s father, Robert Lynn, was the Church of Ireland Rector in Killala. By virtue of his Ecclesiastical standing within the Church he was, by royal prerogative, a member of the Protestant Ascendency. The Ascendency consisted of a cadre of birthright elitists from whose ranks where the chosen ones who ruled Ireland at the bidding of the British Crown. Their cruel despotic rule was enabled by the might of the British army.

In fairness to Robert Lynn it’s worth noting that he held no government post that wielded sway over the lives of the native Irish, whose lot was no better than that of indentured servants. It would also be unfair to suggest that all members of the Ascendency were uncaring louts who delighted in the misery of the oppressed indigenous populace.  There are many documented cases of landlords caring for tenant farmers during bad times.     

The Lynn family and the Gore-Booth family of the Lissadell estate in Sligo were related by marriage. The upshot of that family link was that two women, Kathleen Lynn and Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth) who took part in the Easter Rising, were distantly related and, as unlikely as it seems, rebel off-springs of the Ascendency. 

Lynn and her siblings had a comfortable upbringing moving in circles far removed from the vast majority of Irish catholic children, many of whom died in their infancy from hunger or disease. Despite her youth and privileged upbringing, Lynn was aware of the misery and poverty that existed all around her and, needless to say, was deeply disturbed by the sight of suffering children similar in age to herself.    

How Lynn and her siblings received their early education is academic; suffice to say they were well equipped to embark on their secondary education when that time came.

When Lynn was nine of age, the family moved to Shrule in Co. Longford where her father took charge of the Ballymahon Parish. Four years later they were reassigned to a parish in Cong in Co. Mayo that was under the patronage of the Guinness family of Ashford Castle. After the move to Cong, Lynn was sent to the Church of Ireland Alexandria Boarding School in Dublin.

Despite her own good fortune, Lynn could not forget the misery she witnessed during her childhood in Mayo and Longford. Driven by guilt and compassion by what she witnessed, she decided at a young age, to become a doctor in order to help the exploited and marginalized working class.  In pursuit of that quest she continued her medical studies in Manchester, Düsseldorf and the Catholic University Medical School in Dublin. In 1899, after sitting and passing the medical exam, she was granted a medical degree from the Royal University of Ireland. In addition to her degree, she was awarded the prestigious Hudson Prize and a Silver Medal in recognition of her high standing in her graduation class.  

After graduating Lynn emigrated to the United States where she continued her training and completed postgraduate studies. At that time most medical graduates went to Europe to gain experience and complete postgraduate studies; Lynn choose the United States because it offered better opportunities for female doctors.

After returning home, circa 1909, Lynn was appointed to the position of House Surgeon in the Adelaide Hospital, but was unable to take the position because male staff members refused to work with her.  She found acceptance at other hospitals including Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital and the Rotunda Hospital. From 1910 through 1916 she worked at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital; the first female resident doctor to work there. She also set-up her own practice at her home in Rathmines where she cared for poor children to the consternation of her peers and Catholic church authorities.  

In 1909 she became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland

Lynn grew up and came of age during the apex of the Irish Literary Revival movement that spearheaded the revival of Ireland's Gaelic heritage and the growth of Irish nationalism. It was difficult for any young person to stay aloof from the aura that the movement and its protagonists radiated.  Lynn was not the only non-Catholic caught in the movements web. Other contemporaries of Lynn including Douglas Hyde, Maud Gonne, Alice Milligan, Ella Young, Constance Markievicz, William Butler Yeats, Roger Casement and others too numerous to name, were active and upfront participants in the numerous organizations that the movement spawned including the Home Rule movement, the Gaelic League, the Gaelic Athletic Association, Inghinidhe na hÉireann, Cumann na mBan, The Irish Volunteers and na Fianna Eireann.

Lynn joined the Gaelic League, founded by Douglas Hyde, during her student years. She also joined the suffrage movement that was driven towards militancy by the refusal of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party to include women’s suffrage in the Irish Home Rule bill being debated in London.  

It was during the 1913 Dublin lockout that Lynn entered another phase in her life. When William Murphy, the owner of Cleary's Department store and other business owners demanded that their employees revoke their Irish Transport and General Workers Union membership and sign a pledge of loyalty to their employers.  Thousands of workers refused, triggering the great Lockout of 1913, that lasted eight months. The Lockout is still considered to be the most severe and significant industrial dispute in Irish history.

Lynn supported the cause of the workers during the Lockout and spent much of her time in the soup kitchens in Liberty Hall with Constance Markievicz, Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen and many other dedicated supporters.  In addition to her work in the soup kitchens she treated ailing workers and family members suffering from malnutrition and many other poverty related diseases.

As the lockout progressed many of the volunteer activists suffered from fatigue including Helena Molony. Markievicz asked Lynn to treat Molony who was suffering from chronic exhaustion brought about by her work on behalf of the striking workers as well as her involvement with the suffrage movement and Irish Nationalism.  While under her care Lynn had Molony stay at her home in Rathmines. While staying at Lynn’s home Molony, a persuasive nationalist, won Lynn over to the nationalist cause. In describing Molony’s influence on her conversion Lynn wrote the following:

‘We used to have long talks and she converted me to the national movement. She was a very clever and attractive girl with a tremendous power of making friends.’

In November of 1913, during the Lockout, Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and Jack White founded the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) to protect workers against mercenaries hired by the employers and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Other prominent members of the ICA included Seán 'Casey, Constance Markievicz and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. 

Lynn joined the ICA because of her empathy for the workers and, perhaps to a lesser extent, because the organization did not discriminate against women. Both Connolly and Larkin were outspoken advocated for gender equality including their right to bear arms.  As a doctor, Lynn did not participate in drilling and arms training, her focus was on training ICA and Cumann na mBan members how to treat battlefield wounds. 

In the weeks leading up to the Easter Rising Lynn took part in ICA unit deployment planning and transported weapons and ammunition from Padraic Pearse’s St. Enda’s School to Liberty Hall in her car. Her home in Rathmines was used for secret meetings by the Rising planners.

 On Easter Monday, at the onset of the Rising she was appointed Captain of the Citizen Army and placed second-in-command to Sean Connolly at the City Hall Garrison. Shortly after climbing over the gates and taking up her post, Sean Connolly was shot dead by a sniper while attempting to hoist the tricolor over City Hall. As the senior officer and second -in-command she took command of the garrison and directed operations until it fell.  

City Hall is located close to Dublin Castle, the seat of the British government in Ireland. That being so, it was immediately reinforced when the Rising broke out. Heavy fighting continued in the vicinity of City Hall throughout the afternoon. Shortly after 5.00 pm, a large force of British soldiers arrived and immediately took up positions around the City Hall garrison.  At 7.30 pm they stormed the garrison where heavy fighting continued until 9.30 pm when the garrison was forced to surrender. As the officer in command it was Lynn’s duty to surrender the garrison to the British Army. Such a scenario would not occur other than where the ICA’s gender equality rules applied; in this instance --- a woman surrendering a garrison to a British army officer. 

After the surrender, Lynn and the other eight women manning the garrison were held for a week in Ship Street Barracks under atrocious conditions.  After the other garrisons surrendered on April 28, they were moved to Richmond Barracks before been transferred to Kilmainham Goal where they heard the firing squads end the lives of some of the leaders of the Rising.  On May 10, she was transferred to Mountjoy with Markievicz, Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen and the other women prisoners. In early June Lynn was deported to England.  Instead of been imprisoned; she was sent to Bath in Somerset to help fill in for the shortage of doctors due to the war. By the end of 1917 she was back at her home in Dublin, working to re-establish her practice.

After returning home she was elected to the Sinn Féin Executive Council and appointed its Director of Public Health. Sinn Fein was established in 1905 by Author Griffith, "to establish in Ireland's capital a national legislature endowed with the moral authority of the Irish nation". After the Rising, Sinn Fein became the umbrella organization for Irish Republicans committed to the establishment of an Irish Republic.  

At the onset of the War of Independence the leaders of Sinn Fein, including Lynn, were rounded up and imprisoned. However, she did not spend much time in prison as the Lord Mayor of Dublin intervened and had her released as her medical skills were desperately needed during the influenza pandemic of 1918.  During the War of Independence, she took no direct part in the fighting, concentrating instead on caring for wounded and dying Republican Volunteers.   

In 1919, together with her partner, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen and other members of the League of Women Delegates, an offshoot of Sinn Fein, founded St. Ultan’s Hospital for Children. The primary purpose of its founding was to provide medical care for the neglected sick children of Dublin’s poorest families. Its founding would also provide a venue for female doctors to shape and advance their own medical careers free from the restraints inherent in Ireland’s patriarchal society.

The existence of St. Ultan’s, a hospital founded and managed by women, especially Protestant women, caused a great deal of anxiety to the Catholic Hierarchy and Irish government officials who chafed at the concept of female control over anything other than the kitchen.  Over the years, Ireland’s godfathers including such self-assuming luminaries as De Valera and John Charles McQuaid, the Archbishop of Dublin, were incensed at what they considered to be an affront to their primacy in all matters relating to heaven and earth, an abomination in Catholic Ireland. 

Lynn, together with the vast majority of Republican women, opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

She was on the losing side in the ensuing Treaty War. Because of her involvement with St. Ultan’s Hospital she was able to avoid the marginalization or banishment meted out to other activist Republican women. The British-backed Free State government that had taken power was misogynistic, anti-republican and opportunistic to its core. The brutality directed at its opponents during the Treaty War, particularly women, far exceeded that meted out by the British during the War of Independence. There was no place in the dominion state for those who fought for or supported the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916.

Lynn was elected to the Fourth Dail for Dublin County in August of 1923.  Sinn Fein members including Lynn did not take their seats as provisions of the Anglo-Irish Treaty required that they swear allegiance to the English Monarch before taking their seats in what was touted to be an Irish parliament.

In 1926, after de Valera, the president of Sinn Fein, lost a party vote to take their seats in the Dail, he resigned from Sinn Fein and established Fianna Fail.  In the 1927 General Election, Fianna Fail won the majority of previously held Sinn Fein seats.  Lynn, who had run under the Sinn Fein banner was one of the deputies who lost their seat.

In 1925, in furtherance of her commitment to the welfare of poor children, Lynn and her partner Madeline French–Mullen visited the United States to study infant hospital care and social programs to improve the lot of sick children. They traveled extensively as far west as Oregon. Although they could not implement all of what they learned on their return home, due to the lack of money and official indifference, they, nonetheless, had established an important benchmark in infant care and proven methods to adopt going forward.   

By 1927, de Valera was fully committed to the policies and stances of the pro-Treaty party in power, while at the same time, lamely, maintaining that he was a republican committed to the Proclamation of 1916. Disillusioned by de Valera’s and his follower’s capitulation, coupled with their refusal to champion social reform and health care as a core value, she abandoned politics and concentrated her efforts on St. Ultan’s, and her clinics until her death in 1955. Despite her disgust with national politics, she continued to serve on Rathmines Urban Council to 1930.

Kathleen Lynn’s life and times was much more complex than this biography recounts. Her pioneering work and lifelong commitment on behalf of poor children was the essence of her life work – her legacy.  Her other pursuits were motivated by a belief that a gender equal, classless society within the framework of a secular Irish Republic as envisioned in the Proclamation of 1916 would better serve the Irish people.    

 Dr. Kathleen Florence Lynn died on September 14, 1955 in Ballsbridge in Dublin. She was buried with full military honors in the family plot in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin.


Contributor:  Tomás Ó Coısdealha


Name:   Deansgrange Cemetery                                            

ADDRESS:   Grange Rd, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland



Back to Biographies                                                                                                                                                                        Posted  05/06/2017