Lynch, Máirín (1916–2004), taoiseach's wife and confidante, was born 16 August 1916 in Rathgar, Dublin, daughter of Arthur O'Connor , medical student, and his wife Margaret (née Doyle), who came from a small farming background in Meath and appears to have become estranged from her family. There is some uncertainty about the fate of Arthur O'Connor. Máirín believed that he had joined the Royal Navy and been lost at sea shortly before the end of the first world war; she believed she could remember being held by him as a small child and playing with the anchor‑embossed buttons on his jacket. However, the only Arthur O'Connor listed among the Irish war dead was an officer in the Norfolk Regiment killed on 27 July 1916 during the battle of the Somme. (Máirín's father might have enlisted under a variant of his name, or in some service other than the British.) Some commentators, including one of Jack Lynch's (qv) biographers, T. Ryle Dwyer, have stated that Máirín was the daughter of a judge. This may have originated as a misunderstanding among some of Jack Lynch's acquaintances based on the fact that Judge Arthur O'Connor (qv) was a circuit court judge based in Cork 1947–50, and that Máirín's sense of style may have given the impression of higher social origins than were in fact the case.
Máirín's mother worked as assistant secretary of the Dublin Industrial Development Association (later the National Agricultural and Industrial Development Association) and lived in a flat with her daughter. Since she could not afford a housekeeper, she often brought Máirín with her to the office (where the girl recalled seeing such figures as Maud Gonne MacBride (qv), Charlotte Despard (qv), and the kilted William Gibson (qv), 2nd Baron Ashbourne) and the association's annual dinner. Both Mrs O'Connor and her daughter supported Fianna Fáil because of its policy of encouraging Irish industries through protection. Patriotism had its downside; in later life Máirín recalled that wearing the rough vests made in Cork by Sunbeam Wolsey meant that throughout her youth she 'scratched for Ireland'.
Máirín was educated for thirteen years by the Dominican sisters in their primary and secondary schools at Muckross Park, Dublin (she was a 'weekly boarder', returning home at weekends); she then spent a year at the Dominican commercial college in Eccles Street, Dublin, before joining the civil service in 1934 in the Department of Industry and Commerce. (She chose Industry and Commerce over External Affairs as it had more affinity with her mother's work.) She would have liked to have been a dress designer but could not afford the lengthy Parisian apprenticeship required and did not wish to leave her mother. In later life she made many of her own dresses and, as taoiseach's wife, wore and promoted the work of Irish dress designers such as Sybil Connolly (qv) and Marjorie Boland. Her interest in stylish dress would be shared with her husband Jack Lynch, a tailor's son.
Máirín played hockey and camogie at Muckross; as a civil servant she played tennis at the Kenilworth Square club, and hockey with Maids of the Mountain, whom she captained when they won the Leinster Intermediate League in 1945 and the H. M. White Cup in 1946. She subsequently joined the Muskerry Golf Club, winning the President's Cup in 1954.
She met Jack Lynch during a summer holiday at Glengariff in summer 1943; he was training with friends and she was with a friend. Jack and his party initially teased the girls' perceived 'classiness' by assuming a working‑class 'Coal Quay' accent. Jack and Máirín subsequently went out together when Jack, then a civil servant, arranged to be transferred from Cork to Dublin to complete his studies for the bar at King's Inns; this was the only serious relationship (i.e. with marriage in mind) either of them conducted. They married on 10 August 1946, Máirín resigning from the civil service under the regulations then in force. The marriage was childless, almost certainly for medical reasons. The Lynches considered adopting children as early as 1947; and after Máirín had a hysterectomy in her late 30s they made plans to adopt two children. These, however, were abandoned when Jack became minister for education in 1957; she could not have cared for children while accompanying him round the country on his official duties, and she decided that her first loyalty was to Jack. In some later interviews she expressed regret at her childlessness. Both Lynches took a strong interest in legislative reform relating to adoption, as well as to improving the position of widows. (Máirín's mother lived with them after their final move to Dublin in 1957, when they acquired the suburban house at Garville Avenue, Rathgar, which became their home for the rest of their lives; she remained with them as long as possible before going into a nursing home, and his mother‑in‑law's deteriorating health was one of the factors behind Lynch's initial reluctance to seek the Fianna Fáil leadership in 1966.) Máirín sometimes suggested that they saw the nation as their family, and they delighted in the company of friends' children.
Childlessness made the Lynches' relationship more intense. A favourite pastime was spending time at home together, talking, reading and listening to music. Máirín also tended to draw Lynch away somewhat from his siblings and their families, not from reclusiveness (the Lynches had a wide circle of friends and loved to travel), but simply because as an only child without close relatives she was ill‑at‑ease with the intimacies rooted in the shared experiences of a large family. Commentators agreed that Máirín's conversational and social abilities played a significant role in Jack's career (she was particularly skilful in working the room at social events and countering his tendency to settle down in a circle of friends, forgetting the rest of the gathering). Despite their affability, there was nevertheless a point beyond which the Lynches maintained a certain opacity, except probably with each other.
This opacity, and Máirín's habit of steering him through public gatherings, led to speculation in some quarters that Máirín was in fact the dominant partner and Jack a henpecked husband. (When George Colley (qv) told Seán Lemass (qv) that he would have to consult his wife before deciding whether to withdraw from the 1966 leadership contest, Lemass – who only told his own wife that he intended to retire after he announced it publicly – complained: 'what kind of people have I got when one man has to get his wife's permission to run and the other has to get his wife's permission to retire?' (Dwyer, 128)). Máirín always denied this, maintaining that her central concern was to support her husband. It appears that the major decisions about the course of their shared lives were taken by Jack, albeit after consultations in which Máirín ultimately responded to what she saw as Jack's preference. (This worked both ways; when Máirín took to making public statements – usually letters to the newspapers in defence of her husband's policies – Jack apparently did not seek to approve them in advance.) Thus, for example, while his decision to seek a dáil nomination in 1948 was determined by the toss of a coin which she lost, she made it clear that she had not been more insistent on her preference, that he should remain at the bar, because she saw which choice he preferred. She similarly let it be known that she had been reluctant in accepting his decision to enter the cabinet in 1957 and that she had wept in 1966 when, after initially refusing to go forward for the Fianna Fáil leadership, he told her that he had been advised that it was his duty to the party to do so. She stated that she made a conscious decision never to initiate conversation with Jack about politics (though he sometimes rehearsed major decisions with her) and that most of her knowledge of politics came from the newspapers.
The Lynches' modest lifestyle and their image as an old‑fashioned couple contributed much to their popularity with the public in a transitional society: 'we were not very political people, but had great admiration for Éamon de Valera (qv), and [were] deeply committed to God's will and to each other', Máirín later commented of their earlier career, in a manner reflecting her lifelong devout catholicism (letter to Dermot Keogh, 11 March 2003, quoted in Keogh, p. xv). This attitude underpinned some of Lynch's political alliances (such as that with George Colley, who was also conspicuously modest in his lifestyle and whose wife and children were greatly loved by the Lynches). This modesty should not be equated with puritanism. Máirín's conspicuous hats and large tinted glasses became a familiar sight at public events and on the campaign trail. The Lynches loved art, style and foreign travel. (Lynch later recalled that when he was minister for industry and commerce (1959–65) 'my wife and I lost a few holiday deposits' when holidays had to be called off at short notice to deal with strikes.) At least initially, Lynch was perceived as an interim leader who would soon give way to a younger rival; his habit of going back to Rathgar most days for lunch with Máirín contributed to a sense in some political circles that he was not to be taken seriously; on a more visceral level, some of his colleagues apparently saw their childlessness as indicating that Lynch lacked manhood.
It is clear that Máirín's emotional support played a significant role in sustaining Lynch in the early stages of the Northern Ireland troubles. (It is known, for example, that he telephoned her while preparing to give his August 1969 broadcast stating that the government could not stand by while the Northern situation deteriorated, and she later said he had discussed some aspects of the developing crisis without telling her all the details.)
In the aftermath of the cabinet crisis in 1970 Máirín became more outspoken in defending her husband's actions in the press. In November 1971 she became involved in a controversy with the pro‑republican Derry Women's Action Committee after she wrote a public letter denouncing the tarring and feathering of girls who had gone out with British soldiers; she replied that while she wished for a united Ireland by peaceful means and condemned injustice carried out by the Crown forces, paramilitaries who appointed themselves as moral arbiters and committed terrible acts of violence achieved nothing and contradicted the basic spirit of Christianity. (In 1978 she publicly defended her husband against accusations by the peace campaigner Betty Williams that he acquiesced in IRA violence.)
Her support for Lynch was emotionally stressful (in a public letter of 10 November 1973 she remarked that she was not of the women's liberation movement 'because I recognise the special position of man in this God‑made world, but I do appreciate the frustrations that…motivates the members of that organisation' (Keogh, 512, n. 20). The timing of Lynch's retirement in 1979 was partly motivated by a sense that he had made demands on Máirín long enough. On 11 December 1979, after he had formally announced his resignation as taoiseach, Lynch responded to tributes to himself and his wife from the opposition leaders: 'I believe that commendation to be better deserved by my wife than by me because of the way she has helped me throughout my political career' (Dáil Éireann debates, 11 Dec. 1979).
After Jack Lynch left office the Lynches withdrew into a shared private life, moving among friends, keeping a low public profile, and not being too obtrusive in expressing sympathy for the internal and external opponents of Charles Haughey. In 1971 they bought a holiday cottage overlooking Roaringwater Bay in west Cork; this became a favourite summer retreat until they sold it in 1990. Máirín accompanied Jack as his health declined. His death on 20 October 1999 was followed by large‑scale outpourings of affection and nostalgia. Máirín's dignity in connection with the funeral ceremonies in Cork was widely admired: she directed that it would not be a military funeral, that the oration would be delivered by Desmond O'Malley (who had left Fianna Fáil to found a new party, the Progessive Democrats, in 1985), and that a large section of the cathedral would be reserved during the funeral for people from Shandon and Blackpool, with whom she mingled towards the end of the ceremonies.
Máirín subsequently lived on quietly in their Rathgar home with a nurse‑companion, Marcella Murrin, who had cared for Jack. She gave encouragement to biographers such as Bruce Arnold and Dermot Keogh, who wished to ensure that Jack Lynch's historical reputation was portrayed for future generations; she supplied them with information and let potential interviewees know that they had her backing, but did not give interviews as such. She died in Dublin on 8 June 2004 and was buried with her husband in St Finnbarr's cemetery, Cork. Public tributes described her as exemplifying an older tradition of women's participation in public life, through their husbands rather than in their own right, and noted that in her case this had been based on mutual and supportive strength rather than subservience. Her major legatee was the international development charity GOAL. She deposited her papers in the National Library of Ireland, and she donated some papers relating to her husband to UCC.