Matthias Finucane

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Matthias Finucane (1737-1814) was an Irish judge of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was notable chiefly for divorcing his wife, an unusual step for a judge at the time.

Career[edit]

He was born in Ennis, County Clare, the only son of Andrew Finucane and Joanna Hewitt. Though he was described as an apothecary, then generally considered a rather humble occupation, Andrew, who was born in 1680, seems to have been a man of some wealth. Matthias went to Trinity College Dublin, where he matriculated in 1755, and entered Middle Temple in 1759. He was called to the Irish Bar in 1764 and became King's Counsel in 1784. He was a member of the well-known drinking club called The Monks of the Screw (or the Order of St. Patrick) founded by John Philpot Curran.

He was appointed a judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland) in 1794, having been originally intended for the Court of Exchequer (Ireland). Though he is said to have owed his appointment to his friendship with John Fitzgibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, he was highly regarded as a judge. He presided at a number of the trials resulting from the Irish Rebellion of 1798. After the failure of the Irish rebellion of 1803, he was one of the members of the Special Commission which was set up to try the rebels. He retired in 1806 and died in County Clare in 1814.

He divided his time between his Dublin town house in Kildare Street, his estate at Lifford, County Clare, and Ennistymon House, which came to him through marriage.

Family[edit]

In 1775 he married Anne, second daughter of Edward O'Brien of Ennistymon, County Clare and his wife Susanna; she appears to have been only about fifteen at the time. They had three children: Andrew, the only son and heir, Susanna who married William Nugent Macnamara, and Jane who married her cousin James Finucane.

Divorce[edit]

The marriage was clearly an unhappy one: both husband and wife had affairs and the judge fathered several illegitimate children, including John, who was mentioned in his half-brother Andrew's will, and, according to family tradition, the Guernsey based portraitist, also named Matthias Finucane.

In 1793 he divorced Anne by private Act of Parliament on the grounds of her adultery with his cousin Lieutenant Donal Finucane. Anne and Donal subsequently married. She died at Boulogne in 1844.

The judge's son Andrew had no issue, and on his death the family estates passed to the heirs of his sister Susanna Macnamara.

Sources[edit]

  • Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 121-1921 London John Murray 1926
  • Burke, Bernard The General Armoury of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales Harrison London 1884
  • Genealogy of the Finucane Family of County Clare with illustration of arms, complied by Philip Crosbie 1929 National Library of Ireland Genealogical Office Ms. 558
  • Speech of John Philpot Curran in defence of Mr. Peter Finnerty on 22 December 1797