He was one of the greatest heroes to ever come out of Ireland
This year (2022) marks the 80th anniversary of the death of Irish Second World War RAF hero Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, DFC, DSO, otherwise ‘Paddy’ Finucane. The Dubliner, son of Thomas Andrew and Florence Louise Finucane, shot down thirty-two enemy planes in the Battle of Britain before he suffered the same fate on 15 July 1942. The charismatic, decorated Irishman was just twenty-one years old, and a legend in his own time.
Finucane, the eldest in a family of five, was a friend and correspondent of artist and author, James Reynolds. Reynolds published a memoir, ‘Paddy,’ in 1942 as tribute to ‘the collection of scattered hours’ spent with his young friend. The two enjoyed a shared love of Ireland, its people, folklore and ghost stories. Reynolds was deeply grateful to Finucane for contributions to his book, Ghosts in Irish Houses.
Reynolds regaled the young pilot with stories of his world travels, and Finucane yearned for the day he could see the same by air:
I told Paddy of my travels in India, the Vale of Kashmir, the hushed and limpid dawn on the Dal Lake near Shrinagar … My journey along the Silk Road, from Samarkand through the Kyber Pass … Paddy listened, rapt; ‘I’m still in Ireland, but one day I’ll fly around the world.’
Reynolds shared Kerry anecdote, like how Finucane was in the habit of whistling The Rose of Tralee, and had devised and mastered at least a dozen variations on the main theme. He once broke into song ‘Oh, did you ne’er hear of Kate Kearney’ during an outing to the races, and among his favourite books was Blasket Island’s Maurice O’Sullivan’s Twenty Years-A-Growing.
About the time Reynolds first met Finucane in 1936, the then teenager was enraged at the browbeating of a group of Kerry farmers during the Shannon Power-Scheme project (‘the big river swindle’), opinion divided on the project:
There was loud outcry for and against the idea of ‘conscripting’ the bankrupt Kerry farmers to work on the construction … Paddy was rabid on the subject when he heard the terms. The Kerry man always refers to this square of land bordered by the counties of Cork and Limerick and the wild Atlantic Ocean as ‘the kingdom of Kerry.’
Dr Thomas Anthony McLaughlin, in an interview about his involvement in the project, said:
No development project in this country was probably ever so strongly opposed. The leading technical men of the day, with few exceptions, were antagonistic. It was called a wild-cat scheme, a German plot; it was denounced as technically and economically unsound.
The change from ‘rubbly stone coteen’ to a ‘flimsy, modern sanitary cottage’ was received in ‘dark silence’ by the Kerry people, wrote Reynolds, the engineers not reckoning on the Kerryman’s longing for homeland:
After the day’s grind in oil and soot, the Kerryman stood in the doorway of his unwanted cottage; looking off and away he saw his hilly little farm … he saw himself walking in from his ploughing in the hot high noon; standing a moment looking upward as the shadows of hundreds of wild swans trailed across his face winging towards Kinvara and Coole in the west.
In time, Finucane overcame his frustrations and informed Reynolds, ‘I’m over being fighting mad about transplanting the Kerry men; they’re a race apart anyhow; they’ll win out some way.’
Finucane was proved right, and informed Reynolds:
It was that ingenious streak that saved the Kerry farmers from the Shannon power scheme. After a few weary weeks, a family or two at a time, in the dead of night, like the Arab silently stole away – back to the Kerry land.
‘This is it, chaps’
Finucane took off from Hornchurch on 15 July 1942 at the head of No 31, 122 and 154 Squadrons in what was then the largest RAF attack on enemy positions yet seen in Northern France. Finucane’s plane was hit by a land gun and plunged into the English Channel off Point L’Touquet. His wing (‘No 2’), 23-year-old Canadian Pilot Officer Frederick Alan Aikman – who would later circle for an hour trying to find the Flying Shamrock – had called him on his radio to inform him, ‘You’ve had it sir, in your radiator.’
Finucane turned his spitfire towards home but the crippled plane went down, tail first, and disappeared without trace. Finucane’s last words were, ‘This is it, chaps.’
His loss to ‘the ordinary people’ was ‘a profound shock’:
Here was a man – only twenty-one – who had done so much to keep Britain free from the invader. His record of achievements made one feel that he was a much older man. Of course, he was. He had seen so much and done so much in so short a time. The world does well to recognise the merit of this young man’s character. He has set an example of heroism which should never be allowed to grow dim, for now and in the days to come Britain and the Empire will need men like Paddy Finucane.
His body was not recovered. Reynolds prayed to ‘the waves of the sea’:
May the thousand sons of Poseidon bear him gently to the shores of Ireland and lay him in a gleaming cave in the Bay of Kinsale.
Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, Service Number 41276, is remembered with honour on the Runnymede Memorial, Egham, Surrey, Panel 64.
Other Irish heroes of the RAF include Cork born Group Captain Francis Victor Beamish (1903-1942) DSO, DFC, AFC; Wexford descended Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde (1909-1942), VC, DSO (RNAS); Cork born Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony Lord (1913-1944), VC, DFC; Wicklow born Flying Officer Donald Edward Garland (1918-1940), VC.
 Quote from film maker Gerry Johnston in article, ‘Documentary about Irish fighter pilot ace premiers in Dublin’ by Ronan McGreevy, The Irish Times, 28 January 2017. The documentary is Spitfire Paddy: The Ace with the Shamrock.  ‘Paddy.’ Finucane. Wing Commander Brendan Finucane RAF DFC DSO A Memoir by James Reynolds (1942), p65.  Ibid, p55. See ‘Irish at Heart: On the Trail of James Reynolds, Horseman, Artist, Author, Folklorist’ http://www.odonohoearchive.com/irish-at-heart-on-the-trail-of-james-reynolds-horseman-artist-author-folklorist/  Ibid, pp43-44.  Ibid, pp 36, 61, 65.  Ibid, pp49-50. ‘In Kerry, every man there believes he is descended straight from a king of Ireland; his pride is an arrogant banner flying high above approval or disapproval … he can breathe no other air than Kerry air.’  ‘And so began the Shannon Scheme’ by Dr T A McLaughlin, The Kerryman, 18 June 1938.  ‘Paddy.’ Finucane. Wing Commander Brendan Finucane RAF DFC DSO A Memoir by James Reynolds (1942), p50.  Ibid, p50.  Ibid, p51.  Frederick Alan Aikman, DFC, died in Ontario on 21 March 1991 aged 72.  The Tatler, 29 July 1942.  ‘Paddy.’ Finucane. Wing Commander Brendan Finucane RAF DFC DSO A Memoir by James Reynolds (1942), p18. See also Finucane: Fighter Ace (1983) by Doug Stokes, and Finucane, Brendan Eamonn (‘Paddy’) in the Dictionary of Irish Biography.