Lawyer who excelled in banking and the arts


William D Finlay:WILLIAM FINLAY, who has died aged 89, was a former governor of the Bank of Ireland and chairman of the National Gallery of Ireland. From a legal background, he was a lawyer by profession and was also a former dean of the law faculty at University College Dublin.

He was chairman of the National Gallery for 17 years, from 1979 to 1996, during which plans for the Millennium Wing were being advanced.

During his time as chairman, the gallery’s most famous painting, Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, was authenticated in the Jesuit residence in Leeson Street, Dublin. By coincidence, it turned out that his uncle, Fr Tom Finlay, had been given the painting during the 1930s.

Finlay was instrumental in establishing the Friends of the National Gallery in 1990, and served as chairman of the executive board of the Friends from 1990 until 1996.

He took over as chairman of the Alfred Beit Foundation (Russborough) in June 1994 and served in that position until 2008.

His outstanding contribution to the gallery was formally acknowledged when the annual William D Finlay Lecture was inaugurated in 1996.

National Gallery director Raymond Keaveney described Mr Finlay as an “exceptional man” who gave a huge amount of time and energy to public and civic causes. “He was immensely supportive and a tireless advocate for the institution.”

Dr TK Whitaker spoke warmly of the man with whom he shared “an interest in angling for salmon in the Bangor district of Co Mayo”.

Finlay was, he said, a “modest, friendly, cultivated man of simple but fine taste, elegant, debonair, generous and kind”.

Born in Dublin in 1921, he was one of two children of Thomas A Finlay SC, a Cumann na nGael TD, and his wife Eva (née Fagan). His brother Mr Justice Tom Finlay became Chief Justice.

He was educated at Clongowes Wood College, UCD and the King’s Inns, where he was auditor of the student debating society. Called to the Bar in 1942, he became a senior counsel in 1956.

As a young man he founded the Fine Gael publication Forum with Paddy Lynch, Alexis Fitzgerald, his brother Tom and others, but due to family and work commitments and his many interests he withdrew from party political activity.

He was appointed professor of law at UCD in 1962 and subsequently dean of the faculty of law.

In 1968 he left the Bar to become deputy governor of the Bank of Ireland and chairman of Investment Bank of Ireland. He succeeded Dr John Ryan as governor of the Bank of Ireland in 1975 and served in that position until 1982.

He also served as chairman of ICL Ireland, Coyle Hamilton and Minch Norton Ltd.

In 1977 he was a founder member, and later chairman, of the Heritage Trust.

At the launch of the trust he said: “I believe that there is a growing feeling that conservation will not be achieved in an open society like ours, except through the activity of a public and an independent agency like this.”

He was chairman too of the Wildlife Conservation Advisory Council, and served in a similar capacity with the Crafts Council of Ireland and the Irish Museums Trust.

A member of the RTÉ Authority for two terms, he was a trustee of the George Bernard Shaw Trust Bequest.

He was the first chairman of the Dublin International Piano Competition, which began in 1988.

He was awarded a degree of Doctor of Laws by the National University of Ireland in 1980, and awarded honorary life membership of the Royal Dublin Society in 1987. He was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Widely read, he had a deep love for, and impressive knowledge of, classical music. He had a holiday home in Erris, Co Mayo.

He is survived by his wife Verette (née Devane), daughters Elizabeth, Annie, Janet and Sarah, and sons Ian and Peter.

William Denis (Bill) Finlay: born February 6th, 1921; died October 10th, 2010