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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Counsellor William Francis Finnn


Counselor William Francis Finn

Sean O’Shea

William Francis Finn died in December 1862. He is interred in the Catholic Church in Tullaroan, Co. Kilkenny, with his wife Alicia by his side, both having died within hours of each other.

His obituary of that month states that he was "at the founding and working of the Catholic Association. He was in the front rank, and few men more distinguished themselves, or brought greater talents to the advocacy of Emancipation, than Counsellor Finn.". The obituary also suggests "that next to O'Connell, no man took a more prominent part in the struggle of the previous fifty years."

To ascertain how a member of a prominent Carlow town family and his wife were afforded the privilege of burial in the Church, it is necessary to return to pre Catholic Emancipation days. William Francis Finn's father, also named William, was a prosperous Carlow merchant and tanner, who resided at Coal Market (Kennedy Street) Carlow. His brother, Edmund Finn produced "Finn's Leinster Journal", later known as the "Leinster Journal". The "Journal" was established on the 24th January 1767, at an address in St. Mary's grave-yard, Kilkenny. William Snr. helped finance the paper, particularly from the time of Edmund's death in 1777. He was frequently referred to as the proprietor of the paper, although his name never appeared in a publication. The "Journal" passed from the Finn family in the early 1800s, when it was purchased by Patrick Kearney.

William Snr. was one of the Carlow delegates to attend the Back Lane Parliament (Catholic Convention), held in Tailor's Hall, Dublin, in December 1792. John Troy DD, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, and Francis Moylan DD, Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork, represented the Catholic prelates and clergy of Ireland at the Convention. William was also opposed to the "Act of Union". Referring to him, "The Sentinal" remarks that he was "an unflinching patriot, who despite of menaces and remonstrances, stood firm in opposing to the last, the baneful measure of the Union."

Apart from his political interests, William Snr. accumulated a considerable portfolio of property in Carlow town, particularly at Cuckoo Lane (Brown Street), which at that time was the principle residential area in the town. He also held lands in Graiguecullen, and farms in Kilkenny. William had four sons: Thomas, William, Francis, Patrick and Michael.

Thomas, the eldest son (1772-1842) resided at Burrin Street, Carlow. He was an able journalist and accurate historian if somewhat eccentric, and is accredited with many articles relating to Carlow in 1798. In "The Irish Magazine and Monthly Asylum for Neglected Biography 1811, Vol.4," there are eight articles on slaughter in Carlow by a "Carlow Friend," (an eye-witness of the scenes described). It has been suggested by historians that the author was certainly Thomas Finn of Carlow.

Never one to shirk confrontation, he had differences with the renowned Bishop J.K.L., which he gave voice to in public journals. Thomas died on the 11th March 1842, at Bellfield, Clontarf.

William Francis, the second son and subject of the title, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, qualifying with a BA degree in 1805. The previous year he obtained a medal for history in the college Historical Society, and later a medal for oratory. Following an impressive career at Trinity, he studied for the Bar, and became a friend of Daniel O'Connell who was then commencing his distinguished legal career. When qualified, William was generally referred to as "Counsellor" or "Counsellor Finn", a title he was pleased to acknowledge.

When O'Connell sought a husband for his youngest and favourite sister Alicia, his choice fell on William Francis, but William had first to prove that he was financially eligible. In a letter addressed to O'Connell dated the 23rd June 1811. William informed O’Connell that his father who was in poor health had made his will, and had bequeathed him farms in Kilkenny at present set in lease, which brought in £400 a year, but when the leases expired, would be worth £1000, and also freehold property. O'Connell was apparently satisfied as the marriage took place a few months later. Despite O'Connell's insistence on proof of Finn's financial credentials, it is ironic to note that his own financial affairs were anything but in order. Some six years later, in a letter dated 1st March 1817, his brother James expressed his astonishment at the number of bills undischarged by O'Connell. including a sum of £800 due to Counsellor Finn.

O'Connell was a frequent visitor to Carlow town, where he stayed with Alicia and William at their residence at Evergreen Lodge in Cox's Lane. With the establishment of The Catholic Association the visits became more politically orientated, as William with O'Connell was one of the founding members The Association was the vehicle employed by O'Connell to gain Catholic Emancipation by use of all constitutional means available. Its membership included the Catholic masses, who subscribed 1d per month to provide O'Connell with a fighting fund. Committees were established in each county, with the main strength of the movement concentrated in Leinster and Munster. The Catholic Clergy aided the Association, and played an important role in its promotion. Patrick Finn. William's brother, was actively involved in the County Carlow committee, and was also for many years secretary of the "Friends of Civil Religious Liberty of ti and County", with William as chairman

Due to the close co-operation that existed between the Catholic Association and the clergy, O'Connell became an associate of Bishop J.K.L.  who was also friendly with the Finn family. In early 1828, when a committee was established by J.K.L., to erect the "new chapel of Carlow". William Francis was the vice-president and Patrick the treasurer of the committee.

In July 1828 the Catholic Association was eventually successful of having O'Connell elected for the constituency of Clare. But to facilitate the Emancipation Act of 1829, and to enable O’Connell to take his seat in parliament, the Association was required to immediately dissolve, and agree to the disfranchising of the forty shilling free holders, by raising the franchise qualification to £10 per freeholder. The last meeting of the Association was held at the Great Rooms, Corn Exchange, the Association's headquarters, on the 12th February 1829. William Francis took an active part in the proceedings, making many contributions prior to its dissolution.

While the Emancipation Act 1829 gave all £10 freeholders residing in the counties the right to vote in parliamentary elections, most Corporation members, including the members of Carlow Corporation, retained their right to elect candidates to parliament, as heretofore. However, the Liberal Party, whom O'Connell supported, had promised when returned to power, to introduce parliamentary reform by legislating to abolish the privilege enjoyed by Corporations. The Liberals gained power in 1831, and as promised introduced and passed the Reform Act 1832. This Act accordingly, gave holders of property in the Boroughs, with a valuation of £10 or more, the right to elect members to parliament, thereby diminishing the political power of Corporations.

A Liberal club ( corresponding to a modern Cumann ) was established in the town, with the Finn family prominent among its leaders. The clergy were also politically active in the club. Towards the end of 1832, a general election appeared imminent. There were four would-be contenders for the Borough of Carlow, namely: Peter Gale from the Queen's County, William Francis Finn, Carlow, Nicholas Aylward Vigors, Old Leighlin, and Francis Bruen, Enniscorthy, who represented the Tories. Gale dropped out of the contest, leaving Vigors, a Protestant, or Finn to represent the Liberal party. The club naturally backed Firm, but contrary to expectations, Bishop J.K.L. endorsed the candidacy of Vigors. This he did, because Vigors undertook to support a measure for Poor Law Relief, something dear to the Bishop's heart. Here he differed with O'Connell, who felt that the money used on Poor Law Reform would be put to better use by promoting Ireland's commercial interests, and reviving the country's manufacturing, by investment of capital. O'Connell was also of the opinion that hand outs would demoralise the Irish people. William Francis Finn sided •ivith O'Connell. This caused a split in the Carlow Liberal (Repeal) party, with those backing Finn referred to as the "Finn Party".

William Francis was well known and respected in the Leinster and Munster areas, through his involvement in the Catholic Association. Stately and prepossessing in personal appearance - highly polished, and a clever fluent speaker, he was one of the most popular orators of the period The "Dublin Evening Post", writing at the time was of the opinion that "It is of the utmost importance to Ireland the Mr. William Finn should be a parliamentary man - to place him in a position by which he will be enabled to make Ireland great, glorious and free."

In late August 1832, the "Waterford Chronicle" reported, that following a Baronial meeting at Ballyhale to make arrangements for the impending election, a deputation of free-holders from the Baronies of Knocktopher, Kells and Ida, met with William Finn. They requested him to stand as a candidate for County Kilkenny with Colonel Butler, and they would ensure his return without one shilling expense. William thanked the deputation, but indicated that he could not give them a positive answer, before consulting with his Carlow friends, who had already invited him to stand for Carlow town, where he himself was sure of his return. However, Vigors, with the backing of the Bishop and clergy, was considered the most likely candidate to be returned for the Borough.

It was November before William Francis finally declared his intention to stand as a candidate for the constituency of County Kilkenny. This resulted in a considerable number of the Carlow Liberal Party, including Patrick and Thomas Finn deflecting to the Conservative Francis Bruen, (in fact Patrick Finn seconded Bruen's nomination). The Liberal Party was decimated in Carlow town, and remained so for some time. Nevertheless, Nicholas Vigors was elected to parliament (145 votes to Bruen's 120). However, Francis Bruen was subsequently successful in the 1835 election.

During the election campaign William Francis described himself as - "a radical reformer in church and state — a bona fide uncompromising repealer — seeking the complete extinction of tithes." He was elected with Colonel Butler for the constituency of County Kilkenny unopposed, and was also returned unopposed in the 1835 election. By this time he had settled in Tullaroan, County Kilkenny.

William Finn was recognised as one of the most accomplished speakers of the time in the House of Commons, where he gained some notoriety by drawing upon himself the censure of the speaker. This occasioned the following allusion to him in verse by Pread, on seeing the speaker asleep in his chair:

"Sleep, Mr. Speaker; slumber lies
Light and brief on a speaker's eyes,
Fielding or Finn in a minute or two
Some disorderly thing will do;
Riot will chase repose away —
Sleep, Mr. Speaker, sleep while you may."

In 1837 William Finn withdrew from parliamentary representation, and proposed Major Bryan to be returned in his place. After retiring, he continued to take an active part in parliamentary politics, and was the proposer and seconder of one of the candidates at every election up to the time of his death in 1862.

Contemporary records describe William F. Finn as an advocate of the peoples' rights, and a fearless supporter of civil and religious liberty for all Christian denominations. During his residence in Carlow town, he was renowned for his contributions to charity.. While residing in Tullaroan, he donated land to the clergy, for the erection of a church and school, possibly resulting in granting him the honour of interment with his wife in that church...

William F. Finn died on the 10th December 1862. The following are extracts from his obituary printed in local newspapers at the time.

Death of Counsellor Finn and Mrs Finn

(Sister of O'Connell)

Two remarkable deaths, and under very remarkable circumstances, have just occurred in this locality. Counsellor Finn, the brother- in-law of O'Connell, one of the founders of the Catholic Association, and formerly representative for the county of Kilkenny, died at his residence at Tullaroan, on Tuesday night, at the advanced age of 78 years; and on the same evening, a few hours previously, Mrs Finn, the beloved sister of the illustrious Liberator, breathed her last in an adjoining-room, the one surviving the other but a few hours.

Having no issue, they had long lived a secluded life; and in their last moments there was not a single friend to watch over their mournful couches, or to receive the last sigh of such distinguished personages, save two old and faithful attendants. At five o'clock Mrs Finn breathed her last, and at 12 o'clock Mr Finn, who, not being informed of what had happened, about ten minutes before his death, inquired how the old lady was, and the attendant replying that "she was better," he remarked, "You always had the good story," and shortly after expired.

The remains of Mr and Mrs Finn were interred side by side on Friday, in the Catholic church of Tullaroan.

References:

"The Carlow Sentinel"
"Old Kilkenny Review" - "Finn's Leinster Journals" - Maly Kenealy
"Genelogical Memoirs of the Members of Parliament for the County and City of Kilkenny" - George Dames Burtchell
Brophy Papers
O'Connell Papers N.L.I. "Carloviana"
"Nationalist and Leinster Times"
Peader MacSuibhne
"The Carlow Morning Post"
County Kilkenny Barony and Townland
"Kilkenny Moderator"
"Kilkenny Journal".

Source: Carloviana 2010


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