Dr. Kathleen Florence Lynn (1874-1955)
Patriot, Medical Doctor, Political &
Lynn, the second of four children, was born to Catherine Lynn
(nee Wynne) on January, 28, 1874 in Mullaghfarry,
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
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
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
Royal College of Surgeons of
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
Tomás Ó Coısdealha
Grange Rd, Blackrock, Co.
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