What does the name Ernesto Lynch bring to mind? Not much? How about Che Guevara? The iconic face of revolution, Ernesto Che Guevara Lynch, was born of Irish ancestry, a descendant of one of the 14 original tribes of Galway. The bloodline moved to Argentina with Patrick Lynch, who swapped the Irish rain for South American sunshine with an emigration to Buenos Aires in the mid-1700s.
While we all know the story of Che the rebel, we’d like to tell you the tale of Che the inspiration, the man whose face, ideologies and legend, after one drink with an young Irish artist, all boiled down to a stencil.
One foggy December night, 1964, Che’s Havana-bound plane was forced to ground after a refuelling trip at Shannon Airport. Not one to wander around duty-free, he took the opportunity for an impromptu jaunt to the seaside town of Kilkee, West Clare. Che and his two Cuban accomplices stumbled upon the Marine Hotel, where they ordered whiskeys from barman and young artist, Jim Fitzpatrick. The Cuban Revolution was no stranger to Jim, who immediately recognised Che and questioned him on his Irish roots.
A few whiskeys later, Che took his leave. But that wasn’t the end of the story, Guevara and Fitzpatrick’s stories were now intertwined, and this meeting was the start of an inseparable future together.
In 1967, during an ill-fated mission to overthrow the Bolivian government, the guerrilla leader was captured and executed. Alberto Korda’s famous portrait made its way to Ireland, into the hands of Jim Fitzpatrick, who used it as the base to hand print a poster – one colour red, one colour black, with a star painted in yellow. He printed thousands, distributing them for free and encouraging others to do the same. He made the image copyright-free for years, eventually handing the rights over to a Havan children’s hospital. It became the symbol against injustice in all its forms. Political groups adopted the image as a sign of solidarity and independence, others as a sign of counterculture, romantic cultural rebellion, radical chic.
It ended up being named the sixth most iconic image in the history of art, just one place behind the Mona Lisa. But that’s how the story goes, a fortunately foggy night to a few whiskeys in a Irish seaside town, and one of the world’s most famous images is born. Politics to art, art to logo, logo to mouse-mats and tea towels. I led a guerrilla communist revolution against Fidel Castro and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.
The image spread from the rallies, to the galleries into the shops. Iconography into irony, the image fuelling the consumerist culture Che so despised.
Whether the symbol lost its meaning or not, Fitzpatrick, transformed his Cuban hero into an emblem for ‘the struggle’ in all its forms. It’s pure creative rebellion, a fundamentally Irish form of art.