Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


Che Guevara's Basque & Irish Roots
Seán Mac Mathúna

The Che Guevara Information Archive

Che Guevara: Internet Sites on the Man of the Century

The Wild Geese today - Erin's Far Flung Exiles

John Lennon and the Irish Question

Che pictured here with his parents. His father Ernesto Guevara said in 1969: "The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels"

Recently on a visit to Galway l noticed down by the famous Spanish Arch by the harbour, a small monument had been put up to commemorate Christopher Columbus - a man with no connection whatsoever with Galway. l found it offensive that Galway City Council had decided, shamefully, to recognise a man who had helped start the genocide of indigenous peoples throughout the America's in 1492. l wondered why there was no memorial anyway to one of Galway's most famous son's, Ernesto "Che" Guevara Lynch (1928-1967), perhaps one of the world's most famous revolutionaries, and at least connected to the town through his surname - the Lynch family were one of the famous 14 Tribes of Galway.

Che's father's surname, Lynch, is one of the most common throughout Ireland. It is unusual in that it has two completely distinct origins. The first is Norman, from de Lench, possibly derived from a place now forgotten. The family settled initially in County Meath and a branch then established itself in Galway, and became known as one of the Tribes of Galway. The Gaelic origin for the name is from the Irish O Loinsigh, from Loinseach, meaning 'Seaman'. This arose quite separately in a number of areas, including Clare/Limerick, Sligo, West Cork, Cavan, Donegal and the north Antrim/Derry region, where they were chiefs of the old kingdom of Dal Riada (originally from Munster) until medieval times.  

Most people seem to accept that Che's grandmother, Anna Isabel Lynch, was born in the west of Co. Galway and eventually she moved to South America. Once there she met a man called Guevara, and they had a child they named Ernesto who was Che's father.

On 29th August 1999, the historian Peter Berresford Ellis talked of Che's Irish roots in a lecture given at the Desmond Greaves Summer School. Apparently, Che was not only aware of his family background in Ireland and his families roots in Co. Cork, but that he was "deeply fascinated by the history of Ireland", according to Berresford Ellis, who had met Che's father, Ernesto Lynch. Furthermore, Che was but one of many descendants of the Irish Diaspora in Latin America that played a significant part in revolutions and social change that swept the America's former Spanish colonies. An Phoblacht/Republican News published an extensive review of the role of the Irish Diaspora (including that of Che Guevara) in the history of Latin America by Berresford Ellis on 30th September 1999.

On March 13th 1965, the Irish Times journalist Arthur Quinlan interviewed Che at Shannon Airport during a stopover flight from Prague to Cuba. Guevara talked of his Irish connections through the name Lynch. He told Quinlan of his Grandmothers Irish roots in Galway. Later, Che, and some of his Cuban comrades, went to Limerick City and adjourned to the Hanratty's Hotel on Glentworth Street. According to Quinlan, they returned that evening all wearing sprigs of Shamrock, for Shannon and Limerick were preparing for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Another journalist in Co. Clare, Joe O'Muircheartaigh has written on the Irish roots of Che Guevara. He said how his father, Ernest Guevara Lynch, had put the revolutionary instincts which led Che to Cuba, the Congo and ultimately to death in Bolivia, down to his Irish ancestry. "The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels", he said in a 1969 interview. He went on: "Che inherited some of the features of our restless ancestors. There was something in his nature which drew him to distant wandering, dangerous adventures and new ideas".

According to O'Muircheartaigh, Guevara's Irish links can be traced to Galway and one Patricio Lynch, the founder of the Argentine branch of his family, was said to be born in Galway in 1715. From there he spent some time in Spain before eventually settling in Argentina. The Lynch name has been there ever since. O'Muircheartaigh speculates that Che's came from the Kilkee area of West Clare. It is also claimed - although no evidence has been found - that Guevara had visited Kilkee as a young man - in his pre revolutionary days - in the company of his mother and spent some time in the old Victoria Hotel.

As for the surname Guevara, it is believed to be of Basque origin, and is derived from the place name Guevara which is located in the Basque province of Alava. According to etymologists, the place name Guevara is derived from the Basque word "ebar" which means "fern or bracken". The earliest record of the surname is that of a donation made to the Order of Calatrava by Vela Ladron de Guevara in 1288. He was a descendant of Count Ladron Velez de Guevara, Senor of the House of Guevara, who described himself as a "Prince of the people of Navarre".

Whether or not his great-grandmother or grandmother was born in Ireland, it is time that Che Guevara was recognised by the Irish nation (along with John Lennon) as one of it's most famous sons.

© 2000