Finerty, John Frederick (1846–1908), journalist and nationalist, was born 10 September 1846 in Galway city, son of M. J. Finerty, nationalist and editor of the Galway Vindicator, and Margaret Finerty (née Flynn). After his father's death (1848) he was reared by an uncle. He attended a national school, studied with private tutors, and lived for a time near Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. In 1863 he organised large nationalist protest rallies at Slievenamon, which attracted the attention of Dublin Castle. To avoid prosecution he fled to the USA, where he joined the 99th Regiment of the New York State militia. In the winter of 1865 he settled in Chicago, Illinois, worked as a journalist, joined the Fenian Brotherhood, and became its organiser in Indiana and Ohio. He supported the Fenian raids into Canada in 1866 and 1870. During the early 1870s he was city editor of the Chicago Republican (1871–2) and also worked for the Chicago Tribune (1872–5). In 1876 he founded the United Irish Societies of Chicago (UISC), the most influential Irish-American nationalist organisation in the mid-west till the early years of the twentieth century. He was reelected as its president seven times. As war correspondent for the Chicago Times (1876–81) he travelled with the American army during the war against the Sioux and also reported on the political situation in Mexico. His book War path and bivouac: the conquest of the Sioux Indians (1890) was very popular and continues to be republished. He also wrote a short book on his experiences in Mexico.
In January 1882 he established an influential Irish-American weekly newspaper, the Chicago Citizen, which he edited till his death. It was the official newspaper of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) of Illinois and the UISC, and often advocated the cause of armed rebellion in Ireland. During the 1880s he spoke at many Irish-American nationalist conventions, and his considerable skills of oratory benefited both the Land League of America and the Irish National League of America. However, his physical-force rhetoric, which rivalled that of O'Donovan Rossa (qv), was not always appreciated. He was also sensitive to criticism: when Michael Davitt (qv) criticised him at the Chicago convention of 1886, he had to be physically restrained from attacking him. Finerty was nominally a member of Clan na Gael for many years but never became a figure of real authority in the movement because most Clan leaders thought he was too impulsive and gregarious to be an effective conspirator. In March 1883 he was elected to congress as an independent Democrat for Chicago's south side. He introduced a bill to increase the strength of the American navy and was highly critical of British foreign policy. In 1884, after he had expressed some Republican sympathies, the Democratic party opposed his reelection. As a result he was heavily defeated when he ran for congress as an independent candidate in March 1885. He remained a supporter of the Republican party for many years. His critics in American politics claimed that he was more interested in Irish than American affairs. While he certainly remained interested in Irish politics, he professed no intention of ever returning to Ireland. In the early 1890s he expressed support for the Parnellite party and was made the subject of friendly satire by the famous Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936), creator of ‘Mr Dooley’. In September 1895 Finerty presided at the official inauguration of the Irish National Alliance in Chicago, a short-lived public movement of a similar character to the old Fenian Brotherhood. In 1898 he published Ireland in pictures, a collection of over 400 photographs of Irish scenery. In 1900 he helped to raise an Irish-American brigade of fifty men which fought Britain in the Boer war, having arrived under the disguise of an ambulance corps. They made no real impact on the war, but his efforts were appreciated by Arthur Lynch (qv), a colonel in the Boer army, whom he entertained during his American tour (1901). This small force came from the ranks of two much larger Irish-American volunteer forces, the Hibernian Rifles and the Clan na Gael Guards, which Finerty had helped to establish under the auspices of the UISC. By 1901 he had abandoned his interest in the goal of insurrection in Ireland, and in October 1902 he was unanimously elected the president of the United Irish League of America. He was reelected three times. In 1904 he published A people's history of Ireland (2 vols) and two years later was appointed a member of the American government's board of local improvements. He died 10 June 1908 in Chicago.
He married (May 1882) Sadie Hennessy; they had four children, two of whom died when very young. His son John F. Finerty (1885–1969) was later a prominent member of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. His daughter Vera assumed control of the Chicago Citizen after his death. A man of striking military appearance, Finerty was perhaps the most famous and popular Irish-American journalist and nationalist orator of his day.