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There were 10 Irishmen who fought alongside British pilots during the Battle of Britain. Of these, one particularly distinguished himself: Brendan ‘Paddy’ Finucane won a Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Bars (meaning he won the medal 3 times) as well as a Distinguished Service Order, and before his death in 1942, became a certified ‘Ace’. This is the story of the Irish Ace and his Flying Shamrock.
Born to a Catholic family in rural Ireland in 1920, Finucane was raised during the turmoil of the Irish Civil War & War of Independence by a father who had fought in the Easter Rising and a mother of English descent.
After a rather tumultuous childhood, including narrowly avoiding being killed in the crossfire of a gunfight between the IRA and Black and Tans, Paddy’s family moved to Richmond in London. There, Finucane finished his schooling and took a job as an accountant. He despised this line of work, and very quickly left it for a short service commission in the RAF. The year was 1938.
Finucane, now nicknamed ‘Paddy’ by his RAF colleagues, ran through his basic flight training. With the coming of the Second World War in 1939, he was assigned to a Spitfire training course and then, on completion in 1940, to Hornchurch. He was scrambled into action against the Luftwaffe the same day he became an operational pilot.
During the Battle of Britain, Finucane would go on to score at least 6 air to air destructions or probables, making him a certifiable ‘Fighter Ace.’ By 1941, Finucane had won the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
Not satisfied with downing 5 enemy fighter aircraft, he went on to score an impressive 32 air to air kills in his career. He achieved most of them in his own personal aircraft, ‘The Flying Shamrock’, so called as it had a shamrock painted on the side.
For this achievement, and the manner in which he flew his missions, he earnt himself not one Distinguished Flying Cross, but 3. At the age of 21, Finucane became the youngest Wing Commander in the RAF’s history.
His illustrious career was bought to an abrupt end in 1942. While leading a squadron in a ground attack on a German position in France, Finucane’s aircraft was hit and badly damaged by ground fire. Unable to keep it in the air, he attempted to ditch into the channel, but was knocked unconscious by the impact and drowned. In typical RAF fashion, his last words were cool, calm and collected. He simply said ‘this is it chaps.’
The significant public emotion at his death was keenly felt. Tributes were published throughout the nation to this gallant Irishman who had done so much to protect it, and he is commemorated to this day on the Battle of Britain memorial on London’s Embankment as a member of ‘The Few’ Winston Churchill said so many owed a great debt.
There are plenty of Irishmen in Findmypast’s Irish records with similarly gallant stories. Why not have a look and see what you can find.
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