Obituaries 09-07-2011

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 6th July, 2011 4:40pm

Obituaries 09-07-2011

The late Lilian Roberts Finlay.

The novelist and short story writer, Lilian Roberts Finlay, was laid to rest in Dunsany on Monday, following her passing last week, aged 96. Mrs Finlay died on Tuesday of last week, at Beechfield Manor Nursing Home in Shankhill, where she resided for the past year. The Dublin born writer had lived in Dunsany since 1975, in 'The Stone House' at Dunsany Cross, previously an RIC Barracks. Her husband, Hugh, who was retired from Aer Lingus, died in 1984.

Born of Irish/Welsh parents in Dublin in 1915, deceased had early memories of her grandmother sending her to Kanes on Manor Street for 12 penny candles which would supply their light for Christmas and the new year. She was educated at Mount Sackville.

In the late 1930s, the young Lilian Roberts studied at the Abbey School of Acting at night, while working at the Land Commission by day. A 1936 programme credits her with the role of Mrs Tully in 'Spreading the News'. However, she did not want to be an actress, saying she gave up on that idea very early.

"My idea was the old-fashioned one that a girl gets married," she said.

Writing for the stage had been her original ambition, but her first efforts were rejected by the Abbey Theatre director, Ernest Blythe. When he returned her plays without comment, she wrote to complain. He sent for her and advised her that her work was rubbish. Rather than touching on sex and contraception, she should be writing about subjects which would draw laughs, like land disputes, he told her.

She recalled that he practically threw her down the stairs of the Abbey, saying that if he produced such plays, the Archbishop of Dublin would close the theatre down. Michael Mac Liammoir and Hilton Edwards were more sympathetic, and Lady Longford wrote to her to explain the rules of drama. She also told her she had the makings of a novel in her.

In 1939, she married Hugh Finlay, who had family roots in Oldcastle. Lilian and Hugh Finlay had 10 children, and it was to supplement the family income that she turned to writing stories. She began writing for women's magazines - Home Notes, Peg's Paper, Household Words, and The Lady. She recalled that they were blissfully innocent stories - nothing else would have been accepted.

"I never saw writing as glorious creativity, it was simply survival tactics, but all unbeknownst, I was serving my apprenticeship," she wrote afterwards.

Writer Bill Marshall, who lived in the Tower Lodge at Dunsany, offered suggestions on her work, including a short story she was writing for a competition confined to women. This was the Maxwell House competition which her story, 'The Adultery' eventually won. The story would not have been approved by Ernest Blythe - it concerned a dying woman who refused to make an act of contrition although she might have had a mortal sin on her conscience.

When her children's college days and college fees were finished, Mrs Finlay sat down to write a full length novel, as she felt she could now give it four consecutive hours without feeling guilty. Still with the encouragement of Bill Marshall, she completed 'Always in my Mind' a biographical novel from 1918-1949, and Collins of London were considering it.

However, the sudden death of her husband Hugh on the seventeenth green while playing golf at Royal Tara in Bellinter meant the work receded in importance.

"I chucked the novel into a trunk," she said. "I locked up the house and booked a flight to Philadephia. What I knew best was minding children, so I took a job as a nanny with a wealthy family, and for the next year found myself in many a bizarre situation. Then I had enough of the American dream. I longed for home, no matter how lonely I would be without my life's companion."

Mrs Finlay resurrected her book, and Collins published it in 1988. It did well in Ireland, England, Canada, and later America. She appeared on 'Kenny Live' to publicise it and it was serialised on RTE Radio's 'Booktime', read by the author, then aged 74.

Lia, the young girl growing up in the book, lives over a pub in Ringsend. Her mother, Marie, is beautiful, a man's woman, with little time for her daughter. When Marie's husband dies during the Great War, she finds another man and shifts Lia father from her affections and presence to board overnight with a miserly landlady. The little girl's desperate crying is overhead by a young student, Tadek, who comes into the room to comfort her. He becomes the subject of Lia's emotions, and as they grow up, she finds out he is Jewish, a rarity in Ringsend.

When Lia is a young actress at the Abbey, war breaks out and Tadek, now a doctor, goes to join the Russian partisans, giant step for a familial victim of Russian pogroms. But although he is captured and sent to Auschwitz, Lia would see him once more, a period of most expressible love, before she lost him.

After its publication, Lilian Finlay said "a thesis could be written on the reactions of all my children when they read my book and realised it had all happened to me, their mother."

She then submitted a collection of unpublished stories to Poolbeg Press, and they were published in 1990 under the title 'A Bona Fide Husband'. Her Philadelphia insights gave a story which she said just had to be written, and Poolbeg published 'Stella' in 1992, as part of a package including her two previous works. There had been difficulties with the publishers of 'Always in my Mind' as Collins of London went into liquidation, leaving her without royalties.

The sequel to the first book, 'Forever in the Past', covering the years 1948-1988, was published in 1993, and then in 1998, she completed a fifth book, 'Cassa', described as "a sensitive story of a family and a house, of friendship, betrayal and romance", centring on the Blakes, a wealthy Dublin legal family and their big house. It was dedicated to her grandmother, Bedilia Brabazon, "with all the gratitude and love of a lifetime."

Her son, Fergus, former Labour party special adviser and current chief executive of Barnardos, the children's charity, published his political memoir 'Snakes and Ladders' in the same year, and mother and son appeared at Bookwise in Navan for a joint-signing.

Fergus and his wife Frieda and three daughters lived with Mrs Finlay for a period at Dunsany, when he worked as an adviser for Tanaiste Dick Spring in the Garret Fitzgerald-led coalition government. When he was a guest at the inaugural Swift Festival in Trim in 2008, his mother joined him at the event.

The old stone house in "beautiful Dunsany" attracted Lilian Finlay because it was "steeped in history." A formidable woman, she wasn't slow in expressing her opinions, and a disagreement with a local curate in the 1990s made its way onto the letters page of the Meath Chronicle, and also became fictionalised in one of her short stories.

In addition to her husband, Mrs Finlay was predeceased by her sons, Fr Derek, a Marist Missionary priest in Port Vila, Vanuatu, Oceania, in 2005, and Jeff, a Washington-based academic, in 2006, and some years earlier by Max, as well as Rollo and Paul as infants. She is survived by her family, Felicity, Finola, Fergus, Hugo and Aoibhinn; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; in-laws; relatives and friends. Her funeral Mass took place in the Marist Fathers' Chapel at Mount Saint Mary's, Milltown, Dublin, on Monday, followed by burial in Dunsany Cemetery.

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Marina Fay, Navan

The sudden and unexpected passing of Mrs Marina Fay, 'Genazzano', Silverlawn, Navan, on 20th March last, was the source of deep shock and inexpressable sadness for her husband, Paddy and all of her family. Deceased was born in Sligo in 1937 to John and Anne Donovan. She was the eldest of four children, with a brother, Gary, and two sisters, Lynn and Sylvia. She attended the Ursuline Convent in Sligo until the family emigrated to England in 1947. There she attended St Bernard's Convent High School in Westcliffe-on-Sea. She had a deep love of horses and spent her teen years attending gymkhanas throughout Essex. She trained as a hairdresser and manicurist and moved to London to take up a position in the West End.

The clients in this establishment were mostly for the world of the arts. She was very highly regarded for her work and as a result made many friends from this sector. Amongst these she had a particular friendship with Diana Dors as they shared a love of horses. Other notables included Jim Dale (Carry On), Jim Brown (Emergency Ward 10) and Richard Attenborough, from the film world, John Gilpin of the London Ballet, band leader Ray Ellington, singer Craig Douglas and hair stylist Vidal Sassoon.

She married in 1959 and emigrated to Chicago for two years where her first child, Kim, was born. She returned to England in 1961 and continued her work there until she gave birth to Frazer in 1967 and Tara in 1970. Tragically, her husband was killed in a motoring accident only five weeks before her youngest son Graham was born in 1972. She returned to Ireland to rebulid her life and settled in Woodenbridge, Co Wicklow until 1976 when she purchased a licenced premises in Co Wexford. Here, she met Paddy Fay who helped her with the business and the children. In 1979, she suffered a serious brain haemhorrage requiring extensive surgery and took 12 months to recover. Unfortunately in 1987 she suffered a stroke which also required surgery to correct. From this date she did not drive her car and this had a serious adverse effect on her day-to-day living. In 1989, she and Paddy were married and shortly after she sold the business and they moved to Dublin where she helped to care for Paddy's father who was in failing health. After his death they moved to Navan in 1998. However in 2007 she had to have by-pass surgery, which unfortunately had to be reversed 10 months later due to MRSA infection. Although she recovered well, these set backs took their toll and her level of activity was greatly reduced.

She was a beautiful, warmhearted and generous lady who never complained despite her serious health issues. She is very sadly missed, but fondly remembered by all who had the priviledge to know her.

Deceased is survived by her husband Paddy; sons, Frazer and Graham; daughters, Kim and Tara; brother, Gary; sister, Lynn; grandchildren; sons-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunt, cousins, carers, relatives and a large circle of friends. Her funeral Mass took place in St Mary's Church, Navan, followed by cremation at Newlands Cross Crematorium.

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Veronica Gleeson, Navan

There was widespread sadness following the passing of Mrs Veronica (Ronnie) Gleeson, Hillview, Navan, at Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, on 3rd February last. Wife of the late Jack Gleeson who died in January 1977, deceased was a member of the Gaynor family of Kingscourt.

She was a member of Bohermeen branch of the Irish Countrywomen's Association for many years, and also collected for the Irish Heart Foundation and Meath Hospice at Navan Shopping Centre, particularly on Daffodil Day.

She is survived by her daughter, Veronica Sheridan; son, Frank; son-in-law, Hugh; daughter-in-law, Maureen; brothers, John and Francie Gaynor, Kingscourt; grandchildren; great grandchildren; relatives, neighbours, and friends. The funeral took place from St Oliver's Church, Navan, to St Mary's Cemetery.

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