A dual sequence of events had already etched the autumn of 1982 into the Irish psyche. Along a sultry Mediterranean roadside, the demise of Monaco’s Princess Grace was viewed from stunned television screens, mourned by the heartbroken Diaspora. At 52, she was crystallised into the same national trophy cabinet as Jack Kennedy, an iconic pair for pre-1990s Ireland to nourish whatever definitions of cultural pride we possessed. Forward a few weeks to an electrified Croke Park in late September, where a last gasp smash n’ grab raid by Eugene McGee’s Offaly may have carried fatal resonance for the odd wizened curmudgeon or three, but the heroic slaying of Kerry’s dragon was significant enough to leave the twin narratives for the surviving masses to while away winter in GUBU-land. Bobby Lynch’s lonely death at his own hand in early October hardly rustled a single leaf in the swirling pub discourse.
Nick Guida enjoys the role of head hocho at the It’s The Dubliners website. Nick can appreciate that despite the relative anonymity of Lynch beside the heavyweights of messers Drew, Kelly, McCann et al, the mysterious one’s nuances stand as evidence of a charismatic co-front man: “I liked Bob Lynch and thought he was very good. I would say that about all of the singers who joined The Dubliners over the years.” And what a list that was, from Ronnie and Luke right up to current co-pilots Sean Cannon and Patsy Watchorn, each one a unique example of Irish folk free from the shamrocks and shillelaghs trappings the group blasted to kingdom come in Nathan Joseph‘s description of Drew singing “in a voice like coke being crushed under a door”. But those are tales almost worn thin, only durable through the oral dexterity of those skillful enough to recycle them with meticulous care. What of Bobby Lynch, drafted in as a full-time Dubliner after Kelly‘s English sabbatical of 1964? Guida admits that “Very little is known about Bobby Lynch, making him the enigma of The Dubliners”. There are plenty of photographs, naturally. A content beaming grin bedecked by the compulsory issue beard, and there is of course Lynch’s standout performance The Kerry Recruit from the Dubliners‘ sophomore album In Concert (Bobby‘s only appearance with them), a few months later Lynch was gone. Seen from the annals as a smooth departure, Bob’s exit and Luke’s re-arrival may not have been quite so diplomatic. Nick takes up the story “Well I have always wondered if his leaving was solely his decision. Ronnie Drew told me (and I am paraphrasing here) that ‘Luke decided he wanted to come back, Bobby decided to leave’, but Luke wants to come back – perhaps Bobby saw the writing on the wall. If he regretted leaving, it would be hard to say. They were just emerging at the time and their biggest fame was to come later. I think most people would say yes, he did regret it… but you just don’t know.”
From that point up to the late 1970s one goes through the needle and haystack motions trying to trace Bob Lynch’s artistic and personal steps. The Dubliners’ tour programs of the era mention him with sincere fondness and allude to the mystery, referring to Lynch as a part-time musician involved in an electrical business at an undisclosed Dublin location. His name pops up here and there in the considerably more lamented Evening Press playing hoary old booze joints with 50p admission charges. Then the chance for glory returns in 1980 with Bobby&lrquo;s solo album From The Land Of Carolan. If this was a gift horse, then Nick Guida concedes that Lynch made all the wrong moves “With all due respect to Bobby, I don’t think it was a great album, and did nothing to help re-establish him in Ireland, as I believe was the intent.” Bob’s charming smile struggles to meet its cue on a cover besieged by cut and paste tackiness. The material is dodgy at best “The songs were at this point, well known, dare I say it, pub favourites. For me, most of the songs are not worth a second listen. At the time I first heard the album I thought it didn’t reflect that well on him, but then you hear more records and begin to realise that a good producer and arranger can make all the difference. One only has to listen to Christy Moore’s first album as proof.”
Just over 2 years later in an Ireland which hardly noticed, Lynch took his own life. He had been suffering from acutely nasty bouts of depression, and a few years shy of the half century mark, he ended it all. It’s another area of Bob’s largely secretive legacy that little is spoken of. His pal John Sheahan, who joined the group alongside him, lost contact with the native Dub a few years before the bleak end, but, to their credit, the band have always recognized Lynch as a bona-fide member. Guida wouldn’t expect any less: “One of the things that has always separated The Dubliners from the pack was the lack of acrimony, at least publicly, within the group, just the opposite. All past members were always included in reunions and retrospective albums. Ronnie filled in many times over the years when he wasn’t actually a full time member [Drew was absent between 1974 and 1979, and was replaced by Jim McCann]. Other groups – Irish groups – have had very unpleasant splits, or such as in the case of Planxty, musicians who came after Christy Moore and Donal Lunny left are barely acknowledged.” As mentioned, The Kerry Recruit remains Lynch’s most popular interpretation, not that his wider talent should be disregarded. In fact, Nick recalls a friend who saw a performance by Bobby, and was left in admiration of the genial one’s guitar picking as much as his rambunctious vocal bravado.
Numerous quirks of fate leave Bob Lynch on the periphery of Irish music. The jaded name-dropping of Luke Kelly from fly-by-night Irish ‘musos’ (people Ireland’s greatest ever vocalist would surely feel total contempt for), to Ronnie Drew’s dignified final days which briefly roused a nation in economic shenanigans, are not the only significant pieces in the puzzle. As Barney McKenna and John Sheahan remain the only connections with the bone rattling days of wine, women, and raucous song, the lads are now a mellow bunch of Vicar Street journeymen. Being in those shadows is unfortunately as much a part of Bobby’s legacy, as his own musical exploits were. Nick is left the final word on this legacy, one which will probably see Bob Lynch remain on that periphery for as long as The Dubliners remain as concrete a part of the Irish psyche as Grace Kelly, Jack Kennedy, and Seamus Darby. “Will he be spoken of with the same affection as Ronnie and Luke? I would say no, for two reasons. One, he just wasn’t in the group long enough to make any real impact, and it was in the early days with just one Dubliners LP to their credit. Two, I don’t think any singers in The Dubliners or many Irish ballad singers in general for that matter, were/are in the same league as Ronnie/Luke, I think all of the singers that followed Luke and Ronnie – great in their own right – were always in their shadow.”
A later photograph, stark, candid, of Bob minus the smile of a relatively peaceful 1964 sees the shadows of 1982 creeping in, a cold miserable end for man worthy of better, a talent worthy of some honorable pedestal. Maybe the next generation of rabble rousing balladeers will finally afford Lynch that deserved place in the hall of fame The Dubliners’ most glorified duo of frontmen occupied long before their own shooting stars fizzled to an end?