The tears arrive first in a trickle, then in a steady flow at the end of Quinn Country (RTÉ One, Wednesday, 9.35pm), Trevor Birney’s sprawling, There Will Be Blood-type account of the rise and fall of the Border billionaire Seán Quinn. Yet, though Quinn weeps, he does so not for Kevin Lunney, the executive kidnapped and tortured after assuming control of Quinn’s business interests, but for himself.
“My legacy will be that I built up a great company,” says Quinn. “I employed a lot of people in a very poor area. I was an honest man.”
The Quinn we meet at the end of three episodes is not very different from the one to whom we were introduced in part one, when, like the living manifestation of a Patrick Kavanagh poem or a Patrick McCabe novel, he rose up out of the Cavan-Fermanagh clay and willed into existence a vast network of interknotted companies.
He would go on to lose it all with an ill-fated punt on Anglo Irish Bank just as the buccaneering institution was about to turn into a gravity well of debt. Seated across from Birney, Quinn expresses mainly anger and resentment. Time has not brought much in the way of healing.
Quinn Country, across its three nights and three-hour running time, has delivered a visceral portrait of the businessman. The concluding instalment takes up the story following the collapse of his empire and the campaign of terror waged by some in the Border community after Quinn lost control of the companies he built from nothing.
The first targets were outsiders who dared express an interest in the various Quinn enterprises. The second were former Quinn lieutenants who assumed control (those from farther afield having been scared away).
The attacks on Lunney are regarded as having been carried out by supporters of the Quinn family. Quinn himself insists he had no involvement and says there was no justification for any of the violence or intimidation. He does not, however, shed tears for the kidnap victim.
“Why would I bother my head with Kevin Lunney?” he says in one of several extraordinary tirades. “One thing I think that somebody should ask Kevin Lunney: why was he attacked? What they have done over the last six or seven years ... the level of betrayal is probably unprecedented in the history of the State. I have nothing good to say about Kevin Lunney.”
Little in the finale will be new to those who have followed the story. Still, it is chilling to be reminded of the scale of the pro-Quinn campaign along the Border. (The mood changed starkly after the Lunney abduction.) And it’s hard not to see Quinn as an archetypal Irish figure: the chieftain who believes that the world can be bent to his will and that rules are for others.
Seán Quinn is obviously still comfortably off, but it’s hard not to conclude that, wherever he looks, all he sees are the ruins of the empire he built with blood and sweat and then burned to the ground
“Border people have it in their blood,” says Alan Dukes, the former minister for finance, who, upon becoming chair of Anglo Irish Bank, clashed with Quinn. “They are living in communities that have a long history of violence. They will more easily turn to it than anyone else will. I’m not saying they are different animals to the rest of us. but whether they have Provo links or B-Specials links, or whatever,” he continues, “it’s something that’s nearer to the way they think than it would be to somebody in south Tipperary.”
It is a comment that some will regard as snobbish and caricaturing – though Dukes does not say it lightly and is visibly speaking from the heart.
Quinn presumably calculated that participating in the documentary would enable him to put across his side of the story. Yet the final portrait is not flattering. In his huge house, a Xanadu bludgeoning the landscape by that lonely Cavan lake, he is a small man consumed by a black hole of bitterness. He is obviously still comfortably off, but it’s hard not to conclude that, wherever he looks, all he sees are the ruins of the empire he built with blood and sweat and then burned to the ground.