Dublin and the Bolsheviks and Dr Kathleen Lynn

From the ULSARA 2017 Newsletter and www.ulsara.ie
Following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, representatives from Ireland and Russia met in New York, where the Irish delegation agreed to advance a loan of $20,000 to the new Soviet government. The collateral for this transaction was a cache of confiscated tsarist jewels which was brought to Ireland and hidden in the Dublin family home of Harry Boland during the Civil War. In 1949, the treasures were returned to the Soviet Union.

Apart from such high-level dealings, there were other early links between Ireland and the Bolsheviks. While living in New York, the Irish poet Padraic Colum met the Russian revolutionary, Platon Lebedev, who is said to have helped Colum travel to Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising. Using the pseudonym Kerzhenets, Lebedev published numerous works about Ireland in Russian, including ‘Ireland in the Fight for Independence’ (1936). On a more literary note, ‘The Gadfly’ a revolutionary tale written by Cork-born Ethel Boole Voynich was published in New York in 1897. Already popular in Ireland, the novel was translated into Russian and became a runaway best-seller throughout the Soviet Union.

Our local connection with the Russian revolution concerns a fervent Irish revolutionary who was influenced by the Bolshevik uprising.
On February 4, 1918, a mass meeting in Dublin’s Mansion House was held to celebrate the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The rally was chaired by William X. O’Brien, a vociferous supporter of the Bolsheviks and founding member of the Irish Transport Workers Union, who later lobbied, to no avail, for Ireland to grant asylum to the exiled Leon Trotsky.
According to a report in the Irish Independent the following day, ‘An enormous crowd besieged the Mansion House last night to take part in a meeting called to congratulate the Russian people on the triumph they had won for democratic principles. So great was the gathering that the Round Room being fully occupied at an early hour, overflow meetings were held in the Supper Room and outside the building.’  The meeting was described as extraordinary ‘…a red flag was borne aloft and the song ‘The Red Flag’ was sung.’

Dr. Kathleen Lynn
Amongst those attending the Mansion House were Countess Markievicz and her distant cousin, Dr Kathleen Lynn, both of whom spoke at the rally. The newspaper quotes Kathleen Lynn’s observation ‘…that some people were shy of acclaiming Russia, fearing that the cry of anti-clericalism might be levelled against them – a cry that had been raised against men and movements which the British Government had reason to fear.’

The daughter of a Protestant clergyman, Kathleen Lynn was a courageous activist who battled against the social and political injustices of her time. Despite the bars against women’s education, she received a medical degree and secured a position at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital. As chief medical office for the Irish Citizens Army, she disappeared without explanation from the hospital in 1916, to tend the wounded at City Hall where she was captured. Returning to Dublin from exile in England, she became a Sinn Fein politician and practiced medicine in Rathmines, where she lived with her life’s partner Madeline Ffrench Mullen. In 1919, they founded St Ultan’s Hospital for babies, introducing new vaccines and technology to treat both children and women. Despite clashes with Archbishop McQuaid over medical ethics, she devoted her time to modernising health care in Ireland.

This early supporter of the Bolshevik cause, maverick in the fight for Irish independence and civil liberties, spent her last days in our neighbourhood. She died, age 81, at St Mary’s Anglican home, Pembroke Park, September 14, 1955. She was buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery with full military honours.


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