Lynch, Joseph Lawrence (‘Joe’) (1926–2001), actor and singer, was born 16 July 1926 in Mallow, Co. Cork, son of Jim Lynch, engine driver, and Madge Lynch (née Delany), bookbinder. He was educated at the North Monastery CBS in Cork city and at Blackrock College, Dublin, where he was an accomplished athlete, playing cricket, rugby, and handball. He was remembered by his schoolmates as someone who could make their headmaster, Fr John Charles McQuaid (qv), really laugh. Lynch admired McQuaid and later in life became a Knight of St Columbanus. A talented musician, he took honours in music at school, where he studied voice and piano. He became a fine tenor in later life, played the tin whistle, and was a competent Irish dancer.
While still at school he joined the Shakespearean acting company known as the Loft, founded in 1926 by the Rev. James O'Flynn (qv) in a rented room over a sweet factory in Mulgrave St., Cork. Lynch later put his confidence on stage and screen down to the breath control taught by O'Flynn at the Loft (Irish Times, 25 Mar. 1980). Following his time at the Loft he acted part-time at the Cork Opera House before becoming the first actor to sign with the Radio Éireann Repertory Company, established in 1947. He became one of its most versatile members, acting, singing, and hosting programmes, including ‘Young at heart’, ‘Just a memory’, and ‘Balladmakers' Saturday night’. The many roles that he played provided an excellent training ground for Lynch to develop his range of acting skills.
In September 1954 Radio Éireann introduced its first weekly comedy programme with Lynch at its centre: ‘Living with Lynch’, written by Dermot Doolan and Michael McGarry, which ran until 1958. (RTÉ celebrated the series with ‘Living with Lynch, again’, which was aired 25 September 2005). In 1959 he appeared on TV in America (where he spent time in cabaret radio as well as chat shows) on the entertainment variety show ‘The toast of the town’ (later ‘The Ed Sullivan show’) with many other Irish personalities, including Maureen Potter (qv) (1925–2004) and a former lord mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe (qv).
Lynch always attempted to maintain a balance between his music, theatre, radio, and television careers. While working in radio he played theatre roles in Ireland and Britain as well as a range of parts in films made in Ireland. He was Christy Mahon in an Abbey production of ‘The playboy of the western world’ by J. M. Synge (qv), and in the musical version, ‘The heart's a wonder’ which ran at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, where he sang ‘Poor orphan boy, small use for a loy’.
During the 1960s Lynch appeared in a number of films produced at Ardmore Studios in Bray, Co. Wicklow. He played a number of small roles in films that included The night fighters (1960), A terrible beauty (1960), The siege of Sidney Street (1960), Johnny Nobody (1961), The running man (1963), Girl with green eyes (1964), The face of Fu Manchu (1965), and Young Cassidy (1965). In 1966 Lynch gave a moving portrayal of Cathal Brugha (qv) in ‘Insurrection’, an ambitious RTÉ week-long reenactment of the events of Easter 1916. The following year he played the part of Molly Bloom's lover Blazes Boylan in the Joseph Strick production of Ulysses (1967).
Despite Lynch's efforts to balance his career, television became his métier. It was as Patrick Kelly, the Irish tailor in the British sitcom ‘Never mind the quality, feel the width’ that Lynch became best known to British audiences. The programme, which was shown on the ITV network in the UK, originally featured as an episode of ‘Armchair Theatre’ (1967) but later became a series in its own right. In total thirty-nine half-hour programmes were made between 1967 and 1971. The series featured Kelly, a trouser-maker, paired with Manny Cohen (John Bluthal), a jacket-maker, who together operate a business in London's East End. While the men differ on everything including religion, politics, and ethnic loyalties, they respect each other as craftsmen, and in the tradition of the ill-matched, fighting pair the two nonetheless need each other. A film version of the programme was released in 1973, and in the same year Lynch was made an honorary member of the Shopkeepers’ Association in London.
He continued securing roles in films, including those of Father O'Shaughnessy in Joe Orton's Loot (1970); the first garda in an espionage thriller by John Huston (qv), The mackintosh man (1973); and Never too young to rock (1975). In 1975 he appeared in another UK sitcom, Vince Powell's ‘Rule Britannia’, which ran on the BBC for seven episodes (8 October–19 November 1975). While playing in this series, he also appeared in the weekly BBC variety show ‘Northern showground’. Lynch played two different characters on the perennial ITV series ‘Coronation Street’: as a shifty county councillor (1976), and as Ron Mather, Elsie Tanner's taxi-driving boyfriend (1978). He left the show to take the part of Dinny Byrne in RTE's ‘Bracken’, the story of Dinny and his son Miley Byrne (played by Mick Lally), two sheep farmers living in the Wicklow Hills. The comedic collaboration between Lynch and Lally as the curmudgeonly father and the naive son was such a success that writer Wesley Burrowes (qv) wrote the spin-off series ‘Glenroe’. The new programme saw the Byrnes move from the hills to the village of Glenroe, where Dinny was transformed into a ‘loveable rogue’, and Lynch became a household face to a new generation of TV viewers for the next eighteen years.
Between Bracken and Glenroe he appeared on the Irish stage in ‘The field’ (1980) as the Bull McCabe, in ‘Many young men of twenty’ (1981), and in ‘The hostage’ (1981–2). In 1990 he appeared at the Gate in ‘You never can tell’ by George Bernard Shaw (qv). During his time in ‘Glenroe’ he continued to work on films including Eat the peach (1986) (as Boss Murtagh) and Thumbelina (1994) (as the voice of Grundel). He left ‘Glenroe’ in May 2000 over contractual differences. Over the years from the 1950s he recorded favourite Irish songs including ‘The rose of Mooncoin’, ‘The stone outside Dan Murphy's door’, and ‘The Whistling Gypsy’. His recording A little bit of Ireland was released 1 February 1998, and Irish laughter, Irish tears was released posthumously in 2002. He died suddenly 1 August 2001 in Alicante, Spain, where he had been living since leaving ‘Glenroe’.
A big man with a larger-than-life manner, Lynch was described by one interviewer as ‘a Cassius Clay personality’ (Irish Times, 25 Mar. 1980). He enjoyed entertaining people with stories of his days in the USA and London and often described music and singing as his first love. He married (1952) Marie Nulty, air hostess, of Clontarf, Dublin; they had one son, Mark, and two daughters, Linda and Emmy. In England they lived in Weybridge, Surrey. When they returned to Ireland in the 1980s they lived near Ticknock Mountain, Co. Dublin.