Counselor William Francis Finn
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
The remains of Mr and Mrs Finn were
interred side by side on Friday, in the Catholic church of
"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
O'Connell Papers N.L.I. "Carloviana"
"Nationalist and Leinster Times"
"The Carlow Morning Post"
County Kilkenny Barony and Townland
Source: Carloviana 2010
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