Finlay, Francis Dalzell (1793–1857), journalist and printer, was born 12 July 1793 at Newtownards, Co. Down, son of John Finlay, tenant farmer. He joined the Belfast Monthly Magazine (1812–14) as a printer, and when it closed he set up his own printing press at Joy's Entry, off Joy Street, Belfast. Thus began his career as a master printer, helped by the patronage of William Drennan (qv), whose Fugitive pieces (1815) was the first book he printed.
The quality of Finlay's printing won many plaudits, and as his business expanded he moved premises to 1 Corn Market. There he continued his work as a printer and book publisher and, with the help of Archibald Hamilton Rowan (qv), and others, founded the Northern Whig newspaper on 1 January 1824. In its early stages the paper had a significant literary content, and some very distinguished editors including John Morgan (d. 1836), who later founded the Newry Examiner.
The liberal beliefs of Finlay were pronounced in the paper, and it was unambiguous in its support for catholic emancipation and the tenant right movement. On 21 July 1826 he was charged with libel for a letter challenging the reputation of an improving landlord; he was found guilty and imprisoned for three months, without the option of a fine, and the publication of the Northern Whig was suspended from August 1826 to May 1827. An uncompromising proprietor, Finlay refused to alter the tone of the paper and in 1830 was prosecuted for libel a second time after certain allegations about Lord Hertford's agent; the case was dropped, however, after Finlay's friend Daniel O'Connell (qv) agreed to act for the defence. Maintaining his stance on tenant right, he enlisted William Sharman Crawford (qv) to write a celebrated series on the subject. On 23 July 1832 Finlay was again found guilty of libel, fined heavily, and imprisoned for three months after refusing to reveal the identity of the author of a seditious pamphlet that he had quoted.
He had little time for workers' rights, especially if they interfered with work: in 1836 he sacked his entire staff and brought in new workers after receiving an ultimatum; when the new men struck, he enlisted schoolchildren, training them to work in a secret printing office he established. Gradually, he became disillusioned with O'Connell and was critical of what he perceived as the viciousness and extremism of his language. He did not support O'Connell's agitation for the repeal of the union, and was critical of the Young Ireland movement. Nevertheless, he continued to agitate for an improvement in the land laws and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. He died 10 September 1857.
He married (1830) Marianne, daughter of the Rev. William Porter, a presbyterian minister from Newtownlimavady, Co. Londonderry. The Northern Whig was left to his son and namesake, Francis Dalzell Finlay, who ran it until 1874, when the ownership was transferred to a limited company. The paper ceased publication in 1960.