A Schoolboy’s Hero: Bob Finn of Castleisland

Bob Finn, Captain Moonlight has been given a new lease of life by 15-year-old Sam Jones, who selected the famous Castleisland agitator for his school project.[1]  ‘I chose to do this,’ writes Sam, great great grandson of Bob Finn, ‘because he is probably more important than any other person in my family.’


Sam (centre) great great grandson of Bob Finn (left) and (right) John Haniver, grandson of Bob Finn


Sam makes a great job of summarising the life of the fearless and athletic Bob Finn, from his birth in Castlegregory in 1860 and move to Castleisland in 1861, his liaison with the founding member of the Moonlighters, their moonlight raids as ‘the three Axateers,’ to his ultimate success in putting down land grabbing.


Bob Finn was forced to flee Ireland after the introduction of the 1881 Coercion Act when leaders and oath-bound members scattered to distant lands.  Bob went to Australia but did not remain there for long.  John Roche, Chairman of Castleisland District Heritage, speculates that it may be love that caused his rapid return to Castleisland, and subsequent marriage to Margaret Reidy:


It may be that Bob and his wife, who was a neighbour, were an item when he left and probably the reason for his quick return when the Coercion Act no longer applied.  He inherited the pub from her father. Local Lore had it that the Reidy family facilitated his nocturnal exits when the police had a bird’s eye view of the Finn back door and yard. He is listed as captain of the Castleisland Desmonds’ football team in the mid-1880s so his return was pretty quick.


John Haniver, grandson of Bob Finn, recalls a musical side to the family and that Bob Finn was known for playing the fiddle in his public house.  Indeed, local Castleisland man Charlie Horan, born in 1930, recalls his parents remarking that as a child, Bob Finn would pass their house with his fiddle to play with locals in Con McGlynn’s house.


Bob Finn also sang, and on 25 February 1892, at a lecture and concert given at the Castleisland Club, Bob sang The Marsaillaise and I’ll take you home again Kathleen to a packed audience.[2]


Sam shares a few stories about Bob Finn from family lore which may or may not be embellished.  This one attests to the athleticism for which Bob was noted:


One day Bob Finn was being chased by some RIC in Castleisland.  They had blocked off all the bridges around the island, and he was nearing the river that surrounded it … he took a great leap and jumped across the river Maine.  He was the first and only person in history to do it.


Another family story comes from Bob’s years as a publican.  It concerns the time of the Easter Rising:


Most bars didn’t serve them, but Bob did to hide the fact he was an ex-moonlighter. One day two IRA guys went into the kitchen because it was cold in the bar but a few minutes later, two Black and Tans went in.  Kathleen was sitting in the corner so they put their round Webley pistols on her seat and she sat back down.


The Black and Tans had no idea they were in company with two IRA men, and all four remained drinking for three hours.  Meanwhile, Bob, who was serving them all, was oblivious to the fact that his daughter Kathleen (known as Lil) was sitting on two IRA weapons:


When the Black and Tans finally left and the IRA went to get their guns, the weapons had marked Kathleen’s backside, which is said to have stayed there for six months.


Sacha, Sam’s mother, is proud of her son’s achievement and will treasure his project as a family history, as no doubt will all the family.  It is also an important social history, and it is to be hoped that Sam may adopt the subject for a thesis in his future years in education.


[1] Copy held in IE CDH 164.

[2] The lecture, ‘Self Culture,’ was delivered by Archdeacon Irwin. Kerry Weekly Reporter, 5 March 1892.