One of the directors of the company once known as Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) popped into Donohoe’s SuperValu supermarket in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, on Thursday.
Even though it seemed the whole nation was talking about the television documentary, Quinn County, that transfixed hundreds of thousands of viewers for three nights this week, no one mentioned it to him.
“You are in an area where you cannot open your mouth. You don’t know who you are talking to, or who is carrying stuff back to the Quinns. So you have to be extremely careful who you talk to and what you say,” said one local, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
“If you go beyond Cavan town, there is absolutely no sympathy for him [Sean Quinn]. But in this vicinity, in fairness to him, you have to give him credit for setting up the jobs,” they added.
“There is a degree of sympathy for him but from the Kevin Lunney thing [the businessman who was kidnapped and tortured], that would have diminished a good bit,” said a local who believes that the people who are saying nothing are not fans of the former billionaire.
Quinn has always denied any involvement in the kidnapping or campaign of intimidation and has condemned the violence.
The management of Mannok, as QIH is now known, were not enthusiastic about the documentary, and would have preferred it to have never been made, but there was bemusement at its Derrylin headquarters in Fermanagh on Thursday after they concluded that “Alan Dukes had become the bloody story”, according to someone present.
The former Fine Gael leader’s comments that people living in border areas will “more easily” turn to violence outraged many around Ballyconnell and Derrylin.
The remarks were grist to the mill for Quinn’s defenders online, where reaction has not been muted at all as they have defended the former billionaire against “the Dublin boys” who they perceive have abandoned the Border for decades.
However, the scorn heaped on Fr Oliver O’Reilly by Seán Quinn’s wife, Patricia, who described him as a “back-stabber” who had been in the couple’s house, has played badly.
Fr O’Reilly made national headlines when he condemned the “paymaster or paymasters” responsible for the kidnapping and torture of Mannok director and former Quinn confidant Kevin Lunney.
O’Reilly is no longer parish priest of Ballyconnell and is now curate in the Co Cavan parish of Arva, replaced by Monsignor Liam Kelly, the man who, as administrator of the diocese of Kilmore in 2019, received a letter of complaint from Quinn after the sermon.
‘What I found terrible in the programme was the venom that was directed against Fr Oliver. That surprised me’
Quinn wrote to Vatican officials afterwards to express his displeasure. According to one local, this, “of all the stupid moves he made”, was one of the worst.
The man, a Ballyconnell native who has known Quinn all his life, and who believed the businessman “shot himself in the foot” in the documentary, was surprised by the “nastiness” of the comments directed at the priest.
“What I found terrible in the programme was the venom that was directed against Fr Oliver,” he said. “That surprised me. And to throw in the little dig about him having wine in their house. There was no need for that.”
What did not surprise him, or many locals, however, was the depiction of Quinn as a gambler who continued to roll the dice even when his Anglo Irish losses mounted.
Recalling one of the many local legends about Quinn, he told a story of early days when Quinn was struggling to agree a price with a man selling a considerable amount of machinery.
“He brought the lad for lunch in a local restaurant. There was a few thousand pound in the difference between [them]. The next thing Sean called for a deck of cards and says to your man, ‘the highest card’. He agreed and Quinn won that deal – on the turn of a card.”
Another local, no admirer of Quinn, said he had shown his “true colours” with his comments about Kevin Lunney.
“One thing I think that somebody should ask Kevin Lunney: why was he attacked?” he told the film-makers.
‘He shed tears but they were for himself and not for Kevin Lunney. The big house, Lord save us. He will not want for anything’
According to reliable sources, the ferocity of those remarks surprised even Lunney, who will always bear the physical scars of the attack on him when he was cut and beaten by a gang.
“I think he will have less sympathy”, said the local of Quinn. “He shed tears but they were for himself and not for Kevin Lunney. The big house, Lord save us. He will not want for anything.
“And his family will not. People would be conscious of what others lost. He created jobs but people worked very hard for him,” said the local, again speaking on condition of anonymity.
But there is sympathy, too, for the farmer’s son who built a business empire and for decades appeared to have the Midas touch. When he briefly returned to QIH as a consultant, he was given his old office back.
Briefly, it seemed he had found contentment. But he could not accept he was no longer the man who called the shots. His relationship with his former lieutenants soon sundered.
Since he left, his office remains vacant but there is no way back.
An acquaintance, while appalled by his lack of sympathy for Lunney, feels sympathy for the man whose house overlooks the Slieve Russell golf course. Quinn had owned that course and the Slieve Russell hotel. “I do feel extremely sorry for him. [That] was his pride and joy”.
One of his former hotel employees remembers a man who liked things done his way but who was always courteous: “He had a strong personality and was very confident. People are born with that personality but when you become the richest man in Ireland it reinforces your decisions.
“If you queried him, he’d be looking at you as if to say, ‘And how many millions did you make today?’