Martin Lynch

Often controversial, Lynch’s work demonstrates a strong social conscience

Playwright Martin Lynch’s work demonstrates a strong social conscience, is occasionally controversial, and can be blackly humorous. Deeply rooted in his working class background, and informed by his work in community based theatre, Lynch has also flourished in the subsidised and professional theatre sectors.

Lynch was born into a dockers’ family in Gilnahirk, Belfast, in 1950. He left school at 15 and became a cloth cutter until 1969, when he became a full time organiser for the Republican Clubs. Asked in 1976 to organise a tour of community centres with John Arden’s Non-Stop Connolly Show, he was inspired to write plays himself. His first work, We Want Work, We Want Bread, was produced in 1977. Having co-founded the Turf Lodge Fellowship Community Theatre in 1976, a series of plays followed including They’re Taking Down the Barricades, What About Your Ma is Your Da Still Workin’? and Roof Under Our Heads.

Lynch was subsequently offered a place at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre as writer in residence. In 1981, Dockers was produced, a vibrant recreation of working class life in Belfast’s Sailortown district. The play proved a resoundingly successful social event: colourful, celebratory and written in the Belfast vernacular, it was attended by many from the docks, creating ‘one of those rare magic moments when a crowded theatre is completely caught up in the humour and drama of a performance’ (Irish Times).

The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogarty premiered at the Lyric in 1982, and proved to be Lynch’s most controversial play. Alternately viewed as polarising propaganda and as a courageous play which ‘pleads that understanding by all sides of the views and feelings of others must preface a settlement here’ (Belfast Telegraph), the play sparked fierce debate.

Other works by Lynch premiered at the Lyric include Castles in the Air (1983), concerning issues and problems associated with working-class housing, and Minstrel Boys (1985), set in west Belfast during the tensions of the 1981 hunger strikes, and dealing with young men’s divided loyalties. Pictures of Tomorrow (1994), a co-production with Point Fields Theatre Company, focused on the past and present experiences and beliefs of veterans of the Spanish civil war.

Lynch has also contributed to a range of independent and community theatre companies. These include Ricochets (1982), for the Ulster Youth Theatre, and Stone Chair (1989), for the Short Strand area’s monumental historical project involving almost the entire community. Rinty was written in 1990 for the Point Fields Theatre Company, Moths (1992) scripted for the Citywide project, and Bunjoor Mucker  (1993) for St Patrick’s Training School. Lynch also co-wrote the screenplay for A Prayer for the Dying (1988), from a novel by Jack Higgins.

Most recently, Lynch has served in the community sector as coordinator of the Community Arts Forum. He co-wrote the groundbreaking Wedding Community Play with Marie Jones and the company, bringing together six community theatre companies to tell the story of a cross-community wedding through a site-specific journey across Belfast.

Meanwhile, in the professional sector, Lynch’s Main Hallway (2000) was part of the convictions project. He wrote The Belfast Carmen (2002) with Mark Dougherty for the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, and the hugely popular The History of the Troubles Accordin’ to My Da (2003) with writing and acting double act Grimes & McKee.

The work of Martin Lynch never fails to exact strong audience reaction. It has been variously deemed overly partisan and overly balanced, overly gentle, and not gentle enough. If sometimes thought didactic or ‘invariably masculine’, his plays have also won praise from the first for forcefulness of observation, freshness of perspective, rich dialogue, and acutely observed realism. The result has been perceived as being ‘both very witty and deeply serious’ (Belfast Telegraph), and ‘social drama at its best’ (Irish News).

Ophelia Byrne

Further reading
The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogarty And Castles in the Air (1996) by Martin Lynch; Three Plays (1996) by Martin Lynch; Dockers (1982) by Martin Lynch.