WE owe our freedom and our democracy to the Irish people who fought in the British forces during the Second World War as much as to our own national heroes, people who gathered to honour legendary RAF fighter pilot Brendan 'Paddy' Finucane at his old Dublin alma mater were told yesterday.
Finucane, who had attended O'Connell schools before his family emigrated to the UK in the Thirties was an extraordinary "ace" who downed 32 Nazi aircraft, many of them during the Battle of Britain.
But while he was a national hero in Britain, his heroism was unknown in his native land .
Now, 72 years after his death at just 21 years of age, Finucane was honoured by the school at North Richmond Street when a memorial was unveiled to him.
President of the past pupils union, Dr Tony Connellan, described the occasion as historic and rich in symbolism.
He praised Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Ireland last year, saying it had changed relations forever between Ireland and Britain.
He referred to the Irish who had served in the British forces, saying they had saved democracy and freedom.
Finucane's nephew, Brendan Finucane, recalled that the fighter ace's father Andrew was a Sinn Feiner who had fought with De Valera in North King Street during the Easter Rising.
The gathering was told that Finucane's "meteoric rise" to fame as a result of his extraordinary skill and gallantry came primarily during the Battle of Britain.
Mr Finucane said by the end he was carrying a considerable burden and looked older then his years.
His classmates in the school included famous sports journalists Micheal O Hehir and Philip Green, and actor Brendan Cauldwell.
Mr Finucane said the commemoration was important for the school, for Ireland, and all Irish people who gave their lives in World War Two.
"My uncle would have approved," he said.
An illustrated lecture on Finucane was given by aviation writer Maurice Byrne, who showed an RAF fitness report describing his ability as a pilot as "exceptional".
Among those who attended were past pupil George Redmond, former assistant city and county manager. Also there was former Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty, who recalled Winston Churchill's remarks about Finucane in a speech in 1948 attacking De Valera and Irish neutrality, when he said: "If ever I feel a bitter feeling rising in me about the Irish, the hands of heroes like Finucane seem to stretch out to soothe them away."
In a 1941 interview with the BBC, Finucane was full of praise for the Australian pilots he flew with and expressed his desire to visit the land Down Under. "After the war I'm going to see it," he said.
Sadly, he died in 1942 after his plane crash-landed in the sea off the French coast after being hit by anti-aircraft fire.