The Irish Times: Dead 45 years and ‘our Che’ still causing all hell to break loose
BILLY CAMERON, a colourful local pol in Galway, never expected to set off an international incident.
“It’s ruined my life over here for a while,” he says cheerfully of his Yank foes.
Things got ugly after Cameron, a Labour Party member of Galway City Council, proposed putting up a memorial to honour that famous son of Hibernia, Che Guevera, or “our Che”, as Cameron fondly refers to the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary.
Che made only a brief stop in Ireland in the 1960s, visiting a pub in the west Clare seaside town of Kilkee one night after his flight from Moscow to Cuba stopped for refuelling at Shannon Airport and then got stuck in fog.
But Cameron, who is also a postmaster, has been pushing the idea that “Dr Che Guevara Lynch”, as his Irish supporters dubbed him, counts as a Galwegian because he’s descended from the Lynches and Blakes, two of the 14 original tribes of Galway, well-to-do merchant families who once ruled the city.
“Patrick Lynch immigrated to Argentina in the mid-1700s and settled in Buenos Aires,” Cameron notes. “Che is part of the Irish diaspora, I would say.”
An Irish Central website headline in May proclaimed: “John F Kennedy beats Reagan, Che Guevara, as world’s top leader with Irish ancestry.”
Ernesto Che Guevara’s grandmother was Ana Isabel Lynch, and his father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch, told an interviewer in 1969: “The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of Irish rebels.” Cameron agrees: “I’m sure Che studied guerrilla tactics of the IRA, the same way the Mau Mau in Kenya did.” He thinks the memorial would draw tourists from Latin and South America.
The council voted last year to honour Che. Cameron says he got pledges of funding from the Cuban and Argentinian embassies in Ireland. The architect Simon McGuinness and the Dublin artist Jim FitzPatrick designed a plan for a three-dimensional, interactive work of art that would be “a total homage” to “man, image and ideal”, according to McGuinness, featuring three glass panes in different colours of Che’s iconic image.
FitzPatrick, remarkably, was the teenage barman in Kilkee who served Che an Irish whiskey that night. The guerrilla leader told FitzPatrick that his ancestors were Lynches from Galway and that he admired the Irish revolutionaries who had helped Ireland “shake off the shackles of empire”. Fascinated, FitzPatrick went on to become the artist who made the Alberto Korda photo of Che in his black beret famous by creating his own stylised psychedelic-tinged posters in the late Sixties.
When plans for the memorial were printed last winter in the newspaper, “all hell broke loose”, Cameron recalls. Rep Ileana Ros- Lehtinen of Florida, chairwoman of the House foreign affairs committee, was furious. She wrote to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, calling Che a “mass murderer and human rights abuser”.
Che died aged 39, fomenting revolution in Bolivia, executed in 1967 by CIA-supported Bolivian forces.
The Ivy League joined the brawl. Carlos Eire, a Yale professor of Cuban and Irish descent, wrote a letter, printed in the Galway Advertiser, condemning the “monstrous project” and suggesting it would be “only fair” to put up a monument to Oliver Cromwell next to Che.
FitzPatrick jumped into the donnybrook, writing to The Irish Times saying he wished Ireland had a Che-like figure “who could so inspire us” to bring the looting bankers and politicians to justice.
Ros-Lehtinen keeps punching. “Che was a bloodthirsty, sadistic killer who did not value human life,” she wrote in an email to me last week. “I do realise that Che continues to be a chic figure to the intellectual elite harbouring misplaced romanticism, but I represent many of his victims and survivors who see him in a far different light.”
The controversy caused the outgoing mayor of Galway and others to back away. “What did they think they were voting for, an egg and spoon race?” laughed Dermot Keys, a reporter for the Connacht Tribune. The lefty Cameron argues that “Iliana Ros-Lehtinen and her buddies, lunatic fringe Republicans with a Miami-Cuban agenda, should not be allowed to dictate what happens in Galway politics.”…….Read More
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