News­pa­per­man known for his pas­sion for Sligo and con­tempt for the pow­er­ful

The Irish Times - - Obituaries - Séa­mus Finn

Séa­mus Finn, the for­mer edi­tor of the Sligo Cham­pion who has died aged 70, was as a cub re­porter banned by Sligo Rovers from their home turf, the Show­grounds – a unique achieve­ment, ac­cord­ing to his long­time col­league and friend Jim Gray.

Finn had felt no need to mince his words when re­port­ing on how Rovers, a full-time pro­fes­sional team in 1969, got dumped out of the FAI Cup af­ter a dis­mal de­feat by lowly non-league side Long­ford Town. When he showed up for his next as­sign­ment at the Show­grounds he was told he was no longer wel­come in the press box.

Typ­i­cally he fought back, mus­ter­ing the sup­port of the Na­tional Union of Jour­nal­ists to such a de­gree that no re­porter, lo­cal or na­tional, would cover a Rovers game, and soon the ban was lifted.

It was the first of many scraps with au­thor­ity through­out a long ca­reer char­ac­terised by an in­sis­tence on bal­ance, a zeal for high­light­ing in­jus­tice, and a pas­sion for get­ting Sligo a bet­ter deal from those in power.

Séa­mus, whose par­ents John and Brid­get ran a shop on Hol­born Street, showed a tal­ent for writ­ing as a stu­dent in Sum­mer­hill Col­lege. In Oc­to­ber 1968, he was re­cruited by Tom Palmer, edi­tor of the Sligo Cham­pion.

It was the be­gin­ning of a 41-year ca­reer with the news­pa­per. The Sligo man was just 24 when he be­came the youngest edi­tor in the coun­try. He re­tired in 2009.

His ten­ure was marked by many agenda-set­ting cam­paigns in sup­port of is­sues such as bet­ter hos­pi­tal ser­vices and a third bridge for Sligo, as well as suc­cess­ful ap­peals on be­half of lo­cal fam­i­lies who had en­coun­tered great per­sonal tragedies.

In 2004, he won the na­tional Con­nacht Gold/John Healy award for his cam­paign­ing re­portage on the pro­vi­sion of the

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The be­mused priest was told gruffly that when Bishop Do­minic was edi­tor he could de­cide what goes into the ‘Sligo Cham­pion’

Kaze­lain project, a fa­cil­ity for ex-of­fend­ers and oth­ers in need, which was not uni­ver­sally wel­comed in the com­mu­nity.

Kieran De­vaney a for­mer Chan­nel 4 and Sky TV jour­nal­ist, be­lieves his friend could have edited “any news­pa­per in the world” but he chose to re­main in his home town.

De­vaney re­calls Sligo ex­iles in Lon­don queu­ing up ev­ery Satur­day to buy the Cham­pion at Arch­way tube sta­tion. “His col­umn On the Line was a life­line for Sligo peo­ple,” said De­vaney .

Finn’s de­vo­tion to his late wife Sheila, who bat­tled can­cer along­side him for years, and his tal­ent for pho­tog­ra­phy were hall­marks of a life busy even apart from jour­nal­ism.

Tom­mie Gor­man, RTÉ’s North­ern edi­tor, got his first by­line from Finn when, as a jour­nal­ism stu­dent, he did a placement with the Sligo Cham­pion. Gor­man says that like John McGa­h­ern, Finn was “ded­i­cated to the lo­cal”. He re­mem­bers an edi­tor with a “fiercely in­de­pen­dent side” who was not afraid to be an out­sider. “He was brave,” said Gor­man.

At a time when so­ci­ety still baulked at any chal­lenge to the Catholic Church, Finn took the op­pos­ing view dur­ing the di­vi­sive abor­tion amend­ment cam­paign in 1983. An un­for­tu­nate priest was sent to the edi­tor’s of­fice as an en­voy for the late bishop of El­phin Do­minic Con­way, with a re­quest that the bishop’s views on the mat­ter be used “as is” in the fol­low­ing edi­tion.

The prof­fered state­ment was quickly scanned be­fore be­ing tossed into the bin, while the be­mused priest was told gruffly that when Do­minic was edi­tor he could de­cide what goes into the Sligo Cham­pion.

Any­one with the temer­ity to ar­rive into the edi­tor’s of­fice plead­ing for a court case to be kept out of the pa­per was met with an equally terse re­sponse.

While col­leagues such as Jim Gray and his twin brother Leo, who went on to be edi­tor and sports edi­tor re­spec­tively at the Cham­pion, ad­mired Finn’s writ­ing and in­tegrity, younger re­porters were less sure of them­selves with the some­times gruff edi­tor, who never showed much en­thu­si­asm for pro­mot­ing women jour­nal­ists.

Yet his love of a good story and his wry hu­mour won him many ad­mir­ers.

He is sur­vived by sons Séa­mus (Barcelona) and Kevin (Aus­tralia), his sis­ters Eileen (Wash­ing­ton), Mary (Dublin) and Breege (Sligo), his grand­son Ilan, daugh­ters-in-law Keren and Ester and ex­tended fam­ily.

‘Ded­i­cated to the lo­cal’

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