June 15th, 1968


FROM THE ARCHIVES:In his Backbencher column, John Healy began a “lesson in politics” with this family background of Alderman Matt Finnegan, who was expelled from Fine Gael for challenging the party hierarchy.

IT WAS quite natural that young Mr. Matthew Finnegan, victualler, should gravitate towards Fine Gael when the old urge to enter public life got into his blood. His mother is Bessie Cunningham of Roundtower House, Kildare, which is Gerard Sweetman [former Minister, then FG organiser] land, something you will bear in mind.

My more attentive students . . . will remember that Bessie Cunningham’s twin sister is married to Tom McWey, Tom McWey is a brother of Jim and sure half the country knows where that branch thrived: isn’t Jim McWey’s two daughters married to that rising political dynasty of Oliver J. Flanagan and Senator Charles MacDonald?

(Take your time now: I haven’t finished at all yet because, as so often happens in Ireland, you never know where the hell you’re talking!) And Michael Cunningham, the Fine Gael Chairman of Kildare County Council, would he be anything to Bessie? To be sure: Michael is her brother. The very same, the very same. From Rathvilly.

And it wasn’t from the wind Michael Cunningham took his interest in public matters – wasn’t his father before him, Old Michael Cunningham, Chairman of the Board of Guardians beyont [stet] in Baltinglass for near on 30 year and was chairman of the same Kildare County Council, and Gerry Sweetman but a young ladeen, fresh out of public school.

Not that Old Michael was the best judge of an accent: the family legend that he saw in young Sweetman the makings of a good public man if only he’d “do something about that accent” has since proved to be true – except Mr. Sweetman rightly held on to his clear diction and refused to pander to any peasant criticism in that direction.

So much for what one might call the founding fathers. Young Matt Finnegan, it will be seen, was a natural Fine Gael man and when he went a-courting, he married Marie Martin of Trimblestown – and if you know the Martins of Trimblestown there’s no need for me to tell you that Marie’s people included Captain Paddy Giles, T.D . . .

There is no greater supporter of old W.T. Cosgrave, God rest him, than Mrs Leigh Doyle, a first cousin of Matt Finnegan’s father – and when she died she left a queer penny after her, with all the help the family gave to the Cumann na nGael Party.

Not that Matt Finnegan has to fall back on the Doyle connection for it’s well known that Olive Cole is a first cousin once removed of his – and isn’t Olive married into the O’Quigleys of Mayo. That’s right, a brother of the same Mr. Ben O’Quigley, leader of the Fine Gael Party in the Senate. . .

In short, Alderman Matt Finnegan, when he wants to shake the family political tree, can shake out the names of deputies, senators, councillors and patrons through three generations.