Liam Lynch was a highly significant figure during both the War of Independence where he served as Commander of the 1st Southern Division and later during the Civil War when he was the Chief of Staff of the IRA forces opposing the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In particular an appreciation of Lynch's actions and motivations is central to understanding how the Civil War unfolded and the lack of attention he has received from modern historians has therefore been unfortunate.
Following on from her excellent biogrpahy of Tom Barry, Meda Ryan's book is a thorough and well researched biogrpahy of Lynch providing a detailed account of his life from the time he joined the Irish Volunteers through to his death in the final weeks of the Civil War. Ryan paints vivid pictures of the events Lynch was living through and does a good job is conveying the depth of of his commitment to his ideal of an independent and unified Irish republic and the lengths to which he was prepared to go to attain it.
However while the book provides an interesting and very readable account of Lynch's life it's hard not to feel that Ryan did not subject Lynch's actions during the Civil War to sufficient scrutiny. Lynch's importance at a time when the likes of De Valera were really little more than hostages to the unfolding events cannot be understated. As the books title says, he was 'The Real Chief' and for that reason it is of great importance that his role during this era be explored in the detail his importance merits. Lynch was a highly idealistic individual and his devotion to his ideal of an independent republic and the zeal with which he was willing to pursue it drove his judgement and actions at every turn. It lead him to act against the wishes of the majority of the people and the will of Dáil Éireann in taking up arms in opposition to the Treaty, something which was not unique to Lynch and a theme which has been explored extensively in other works on this period of history. However the main failure of this book in my opinion is that Ryan shies away from providing a sufficiently detailed and balanced criticism of Lynch's unyielding determination to continue armed resistance against the Free State forces despite the ever increasing hopelessness of the situation, something which had already been recognised by senior IRA officers on the ground such as Liam Deasy and Tom Barry, yet which Lynch refused to accept. At a time when the IRA's ability to continue fighting had crumbled Lynch remained convinced that victory would somehow be achieved and thus has to bear responsibility for drawing out what had already become an unprecedentedly bitter and brutal conflict. While Ryan does discuss this topic I feel it merited much greater exploration and I feel Ryan was inclined to grant Lynch the benefit of the doubt wherever possible.
All said however this book is provides a valuable picture of a fascinating man who sacrificed everything for his country and whose primary flaw was his willingness to let his devotion to his ideals blind him to the reality which confronted him. A worthwhile read and a subject which I hope other historians will also choose to focus on.