An Irishman's Diary
At Mrs Finucane’s insistence, and despite obvious reluctance, the man was prevailed upon to foretell the boy’s future. Which, Kevin Finucane said, included the prediction that Brendan would “die a watery death by the age of 21”.
The memory lingered sufficiently that on his 21st birthday, assuming himself to have outlived the furtune-teller’s grim vision, Brendan rang another brother to say “I’ve made it”.
That was October 1941, by which time the Battle of Britain was safely behind him. But being an RAF pilot was not still not a career that promised longevity.
The Germans now had superior planes and Finucane’s meteoric rise was in part a result of high mortality rates. He was himself seriously wounded once, managing what a colleague described as a “wizard” landing, despite having bits of fuselage stuck in him.
Still 21, he was appointed wing commander in June 1942. In a recorded interview a few months earlier, he joked that “I’ve not been shot down – touch wood – and have only once been badly shot up, if that doesn’t sound too Irish”. Unfortunately, his luck was to run out very soon after his promotion, on July 15th.
The famous last words notwithstanding, how he died is still debated. He was too near the ground to bail out. But rather than a farewell, his “this is it, chaps” may just have been the preliminary to an attempted sea landing.
He was known, however, to dislike being strapped tightly while flying. And one theory is that he forgot to lock his harness before impact, so that when the plane hit the water he was pitched violently forward and knocked out.
In any case, a telegram with bad news soon arrived at the Finucane home. As remembered by Kevin, the “telegram boy” was crying when he delivered it. Knowing she had lost a son, Mrs Finucane’s only question was: “Which one is it?” Former school-friends, including RTÉ’s long-time soccer correspondent Philip Green, recalled Finucane as someone who had excelled at most things, from maths to sport. RAF colleagues remembered a natural leader, someone they would have followed anywhere.
His flight log-book is now a prize exhibit at the National Museum in Collins Barracks, Dublin.
Yet Finucane was also said to have been an unassuming man who disliked triumphalism, once removing symbols somebody had added to his plane to represent the number of “kills” it had made. He had a girlfriend at the time of his death, and spoke of going to Australia with her after the war. The plan was that he would work in “accountancy” or maybe “auditing”. At any rate, he told an interviewer: “I’d like a job with figures”.