Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

John/Jack/Sean Finlay 1897 -1923 

Jack Finlay was born at Killeigh in 1897. His parents Patrick and Mary Ellen Finlay were Offaly natives who had returned from the United States to farm at Killenmore. 

Jack’s older brother Thomas was arrested in 1918 during land agitation at Killenmore when large crowds ploughed land set on short term leases for grazing. A younger brother Patrick joined the IRA and was wounded during an engagement with the 10th Hussars near Clonbullogue in 1921. 

Employed with D.E. Williams, Jack Finlay was a well-known gaelic footballer, winning county championships with Killeigh in 1915 and 1916; he later lined out for Tullamore and the Offaly senior team. 

A member of the IRA, he was present during the attack on Clara RIC barracks in June 1920. That December, he was arrested with Martin Meleady and Frank Mooney at Ballydaly. Convicted of possessing 15 rounds of ammunition he was sentenced to 18 months hard labour at Perth prison in Scotland.  

Released after the signing of the Treaty, he returned to work at Williams. Over the course of thirty years D.E. Williams had diversified from whiskey production into retailing. By the 1920s the company operated a large network of branch houses across the midlands. As a carter Finlay was one of those who delivered supplies to the Williams branch houses and retail clients.      

During the revolutionary period, the various activities of Williams had been frequently targeted. In 1920 the republican police arrested 14 men after a largescale robbery of whiskey occurred at the firms Tullamore distillery. In the run up to the Civil War anti-Treaty forces occupying the barracks at Birr commandeered large amounts of supplies for which the company subsequently sought compensation. 

On the outbreak of hostilities, firms like Williams, P.H. Egans and Guinness’s, became regular targets for armed hold ups. Williams later entered claims for goods taken at Rahan, Ballycommon, the Blueball, Mount Bolus, Geashill and Ballycowan during this time. While members of the anti-Treaty IRA were undoubtedly involved in many of these raids, others were the work of private individuals exploiting the security situation. 

 Popular memory contends, that Finlay’s van was among those robbed and that his employers had warned the carter his job would be in jeopardy should anymore of his consignments be hijacked.   

On 12 February 1923, Finlay travelled with his cart from Tullamore to Clara and Ballycumber, before continuing on towards Ferbane. At Leabeg near Lemonaghan he was approached by three men armed with a rifle who demanded some of his load. The haulier resisted and appeared to have got the better of the physical confrontation which followed, until one of the raiders opened fire killing Finlay instantly. 

The civic guard from Clara arrived at the scene but the raiders had already retreated across the fields. The Neutral and anti-Treaty IRA also instigated searches and within a week it was reported that two men had been detained by republicans and transported to an ‘Unknown Destination’.  

In 1926, Peter Molloy and Michael Coyne plead guilty to a charge of attempted armed robbery and were sentenced to 6 months and 5 years imprisonment respectively. Charles Molloy was sentenced to death after being found guilty of murder. Appealing for clemency Molloy’s mother wrote… 

every, man, woman, and child were carrying rifles and guns. A time when unfortunate innocent boys had those firearms trust on them by older and unscrupulous men who used those innocent youths as their tools and led them into all sorts of crime’. (1)

Molloy’s sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life.

Finlay’s death provoked widespread mourning across north Offaly and the Leinster Reporter stated his funeral at Killeigh was… 

‘The largest ever witnessed in the district and testifying to the esteem in which he was held by all classes. The ex-IRA from various parts of North Offaly attended as did also large contingents from the GAA to which the deceased belonged being a member of the Tullamore football club in later years.’ (2)

The site of Finlay’s death at Leabeg is marked by a memorial cross erected by his family in 2012. 


Sources:

Military Service Pension Collection. Brigade Activity report. Patrick Finlay. 1P293. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection1916-1923  

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/ 

The Blues – A 125 Photographic History of Tullamore GAA Club. (Tullamore) 2013. 

Jackie Finlay. ‘The shooting of Jack Finlay of D.E. Williams, Tullamore, in a robbery at Lemanaghan, Ballycumber, County Offaly on 12 February 1923’. Online at  https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/the-shooting-of-jack-finlay-of-d-e-williams-tullamore-in-a-robbery-at-lemanaghan-ballycumber-county-offaly-on-12-february-1923-by-jackie-finlay

Evening Herald. 21 February 1921. 

Leinster Reporter. 9 March 1918. 8 October 1921. 24 February 1923. 

Offaly Independent. 17 February 1923. 24 February 1923. 

(1) Jackie Finlay. ‘The shooting of Jack Finlay of D.E. Williams, Tullamore, in a robbery at Lemanaghan, Ballycumber, County Offaly on 12 February 1923’. Online at  https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/the-shooting-of-jack-finlay-of-d-e-williams-tullamore-in-a-robbery-at-lemanaghan-ballycumber-county-offaly-on-12-february-1923-by-jackie-finlay

(2) Leinster Reporter. 24 February 1923. 

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