Spokane resident Tomás Lynch has a lot of flags representing a lot of countries, and each day he flies one on his front porch across from Manito Park.
When Russian forces invaded Ukraine earlier this year, he wanted to show support. Stores were sold out of Ukrainian flags, so he stitched one himself and flew it for two months straight.
“I just happened to have some nylon that I made a bag with for my sailboat last year, and so I just whipped out a Ukraine flag,” Lynch said. “I’ll tell you what, I couldn’t have sown any other flag. Maybe the Irish flag, that’s easy. But just two colors and one seam so, yeah, I made my own Ukraine flag – devastating what’s going on there.”
His flag collection started with an American flag – which he said would fly today for Flag Day – and a Canadian flag. His grandfather was Canadian, and he and his family would visit him in British Columbia when Lynch was growing up in the Wenatchee area.
Lynch said that is how his collection of world flags, and his passion for travel, began. He has 30 flags now and for the last eight years he has displayed one each day in front of his apartment on Grand Boulevard near 21st Avenue.
Some of the flags represent countries he lived in or visited, and some of them are gifts from neighbors, but all of them have a special meaning to him.
He diversified his collection behind the American and Canadian flags with two flags that Lynch still considers as some of his most meaningful – the Irish flag and Bavarian flag.
Lynch comes from an Irish family and in 2014, he and his sister, Kathleen Lynch, picked up the Irish flag on a “genealogical sojourn” to Ireland, as he put it. He said Kathleen has leukemia and multiple sclerosis, and doctors had given her 18 months to two years to live, which prompted the trip.
“She thought it was going to be the last time she’d be able to travel,” Lynch said. “So it was really special to go with her; that trip with my sister was the most meaningful.”
As for the Bavarian flag, Lynch was gifted it by his sister during a vacation in Leavenworth. He said he lived in the Bavarian region of Germany for a couple years while working at a resort.
“That was fantastic,” Lynch said. “It was so fantastic, my son’s middle name is Chiemsee, which is after the lake we lived on.”
He said his sister now lives in Seattle and is doing well. She received a radical treatment for MS in Egypt, which has alleviated her symptoms.
After graduating from high school in Wenatchee, Lynch moved to Spokane to attend Whitworth College, where he earned a communications degree. He has called Spokane home ever since, even though he’s lived in several countries studying abroad, working odd jobs or serving in the Peace Corps.
Usually, he flies the flags in a specific order based on the proximity of the place it represents. But if there is a holiday in one of the countries, that flag will take precedence. For example, he flew the Union Jack in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee in early June. He said if there is an American holiday, he flies Old Glory regardless of competing holidays.
He said he starts the cycle with the redesigned Spokane city flag, the state flag of Washington and the American flag, before working his way through the flags of several Central American countries, including Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica. He flies the Canadian flag next, before jumping across the Atlantic Ocean to the flags of Iceland, Ireland and England. He then works his way through most of Europe, including France, Spain and Croatia.
There are a few outliers in the rotation, including the Chicago city flag and New Zealand, which were both gifts from his son, Carlos Flint Lynch, who lives in Chicago and spent some time in New Zealand. Lynch also uses the flags to show solidarity, like with his Pride flag and Black Lives Matter flag.
“If somebody looked at a map of the world, they could draw a line and all the countries would connect,” Lynch said. “At least that’s the way I set them up so that they fly like in a big swoop, and I don’t know if anyone’s caught the pattern or not. I’ve been doing it for years.”
Lynch is an avid cyclist, and made his way through several of those European countries on a ride from his former residence in Germany to Istanbul, Turkey.
Over the years, a few people have knocked on his front door to ask about the flags or Lynch’s connection to the country on display that day. He recalled how a package showed up on his doorstep a few years ago around the holiday season, and inside he found a note and a Swiss flag. He said the note was from a mother who drove past the house everyday with her children, and every day they tried to guess what flag was flying.
“She gave me this, and what’s weird about it is that this was the next flag I was going to purchase, and then just out of the blue somebody gives me one,” Lynch said. “So it’s the universe giving back.”
A few of Lynch’s other flags were also gifts from strangers, including the Alaska flag and the Spanish flag, which was gifted to him by a Panamanian immigrant who saw him flying Panama’s flag and wanted to thank him for brightening her day.
Spokane resident Kate Rau, a friend of Lynch’s, said the flags reflect his desire to bring joy to others. She met Lynch about six years ago through mutual friends and often goes kayaking, hiking and cycling with him.
“You know, it just kind of started with him having a full, worldly worldview,” Rau said. “I think it’s pretty delightful for people to drive by and see, ‘Oh what flag does he have up today and why?’ So many people drive by on Grand and it’s just, in a way, a distraction we all need right now, or a little bit of whimsy.”
Rau said Lynch’s apartment on Grand Boulevard used to capture her attention long before the two ever became friends.
She said he used to have a vintage bicycle decorated with lights that stood in the window, and she would drive by and wonder who lived there.
“I think he just has this innate urge to put a smile on people’s faces; that’s just very much a part of his makeup,” Rau said.
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