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From Patricio Lynch to Che Guevara: The story of the Cuban revolutionary's Irish links

We spoke to Epic, the Irish emigration museum about the Irish lineage behind Che Guevara, Rihanna and the US social activist Mother Jones.

pjimage (1) Source: Photojoiner

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the controversial Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara appeared on an Irish stamp to commemorate 100 years since his birth.

As well as unearthing the debate around the divisive legacy of the Argentine who was pivotal in the struggle to overthrow Cuba’s dictatorship, it also brought to the fore a discussion of Guevara’s Irish links.

Che’s father, who’s full name is Ernesto Guevara Lynch, was proud of his Irish roots and the story of how his family built a business in Argentina after fleeing Ireland during Cromwell’s era.

Years later when Che was Cuba’s transport minister, he made an unscheduled stop off in Limerick, and wrote a letter to his father, who he thought would be pleased to hear that he was visiting a country of his ancestry, says Nathan Mannion, curator at Epic, the Irish emigration museum.

There’s another, non-familial link that Guevara has with the island of Ireland – the famous, ubiquitous two-tone print of Che was created by an Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, which was created using a photo by Cuban photographer Guerrillero Heroico.

Che Guevara Source: Epic

After the stamp controversy earlier this year, Fitzpatrick told TheJournal.ie that he was used to the controversy around Guevara, dismissing the criticism and accusations levelled against him as “black propaganda”.

He added that he was “immensely proud” to have his artwork of the Irish-descendant revolutionary on an official Irish stamp.

Irish roots

Patrick Lynch was born and raised in 1715 to parents from two of the main tribes of Galway. But after defeats at the hands of Cromwell’s forces, and later those of William of Orange, he fled to Bilbao in the Basque region of northern Spain, and then to Rio de la Plata, which would later become Argentina.

“He became a prominent figure in the Spanish government, a leading civil servant,” Nathan told TheJournal.ie.

After travelling to Buenos Aires in 1749 to work as a captain in the Milicias, he married a wealthy heiress. The valuable lands he gathered over the years were then passed on to his son, who followed into his father’s line of business.

In the century that followed, one of Patrick Lynch’s descendants would set up a shipping company, fight in the Argentine army and Chilean navy, write novels and short stories, paint and found a movement for rural libraries in Argentina.

It’s hard not to see how that family history didn’t impact on young Che, who was athletic and political, as well as passionate about poetry.

But it was while Che Guevara toured South America during his 20s that the spark of political activism was lit – it was during this time that he also penned a book of his own – The Motorcycle Diaries, (which decades later was turned into a film of the same name).

Che Guevara cigar Source: Epic

Referring to Che’s “restless” nature, his father declared “the first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels”.

“Half a million, to a million of the Argentinian population claim to be of Irish descent. But there are problems with identifying people of Irish descent, because when the Irish arrived during that era, they were recorded as ‘British’, so it’s a little bit problematic identifying who was Irish and who wasn’t.

“So the ancestry of Guevara is quite exceptional – as they emigrated to Argentina long before most Irish people did, during the latter half of the 19th century, coming up to the Great Famine.”

Other famous Irish figures

Pop superstar Rihanna and social activist Mother Jones are among the other interesting figures with Irish lineage.

Rihanna, who was born as Robyn Rihanna Fenty, still bears her Irish roots in her surname. Her father, Ronald Fenty, is an Irish Barbadian and her mother, Monica Braithwaite, is Afro-Guyanese.

Her Irish connections also go back to Cromwell’s era when Irish dissidents were sent to the Caribbean to work on the British empire’s sugar plantations – including her father’s ancestors.

Rihanna’s paternal ancestors would have been part of the ‘Red Legs’ group on the plantations, a name which originated from how easily they burned in the Caribbean sun.

“A lot of them intermarried, and intermarried with the predominant population which was black slaves, so Rihanna’s father would have been a member of that community, Rihanna’s mother from the other one, so that’s where the crossover came.”

Rihanna displays her Irish heritage in how prominently she uses her surname, Fenty – as a luxury diverse make-up brand.

Mother Jones was a first generation emigrant from Cork city.

After starting a family and opening a dressmaking business in Chicago, a number of tragedies befell her. In 1866, her husband and children all died of yellow fever, and a few years later in 1871 the Great Fire of Chicago took hold and her dress shop burnt down.

“So she lost her family, her business and her home in the space of a couple of years,” Mannion says. ”But rather than resigning herself to sorrow she decided that she would travel the country and give back.”

So she became a central figure in the labour rights movement, disguising herself as an old woman at protests to shield herself from injury from law enforcement. She was famed for being able to rouse a whole village or town into protest with just her words – an ability that earned her the title as “the most dangerous woman in America”.

Mother Jones Source: EPIC

She marched upon the White House in solidarity with miners’ rights, and called the workers “her children”. To this day there are still magazine Mother Jones named after her, although she still remains a relatively unsung hero here.

If you’re interested in the other Irish figures that have dominated world history, you can find out more at the Epic, the Irish emigration museum, which has been nominated for the European Museum of the Year Award 2018.

Cork-born Dr James Barry, a noted surgeon for performing the first successful Caesarean operation in Africa where mother and child survived is if particular note – it was only upon her death that her true identity as the women Margaret Ann Bulkley came to light.

Read: Some Cubans are outraged with Ireland’s ‘offensive’ Che Guevara stamp

Read: Irish Che Guevara artist: ‘Criticism is to be expected from the usual quarters’

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