Is Sean Quinn still the richest man in Ireland?
There are many ways to measure a man’s wealth. A stranger in the Slieve Russell in Ballyconnell last Thursday evening could be forgiven for thinking that Sean Quinn was one of the luckiest and wealthiest men in Ireland, the world even.
Your health is your wealth as they say and here was a man, looking well for his 70 years and still commanding a presence, surrounded by his adoring family, being clapped on the back by friends and neighbours and well wishers who all rushed and tripped over one another to congratulate him on the publication of his new book.
The book launch was due to get underway at around 8pm. The Celt arrived about 7:15pm, early, to soak in the atmosphere. The stage was set in the Cranaghan Suite with no less than 1,200 chairs put out. Ambitious, judging by the crowd of around 100 people who were starting to gather between the bar and the room itself. A steady stream of people queued up to buy the book. No sign yet of the man of the hour.
Fast forward around a half an hour and Sean Quinn Jnr, his wife and children arrive, looking very smart – the three boys in matching chinos and shirts. Five minutes later, more family arrived, and the room was beginning to fill up. People, it seemed, were torn between going inside and getting a good seat, near the front; or hanging back in the bar to get a glimpse of the main man arriving (he himself admits it had been around eight years since he set foot in the hotel - once the jewel in the crown of his property portfolio. Hard to believe when he lives right next door and his property adjoins the golf course).
Bang on 7:55pm and Sean Quinn and his wife Patricia landed. It didn’t seem at all choreographed and it was quite a touching moment but one of his little grandsons darted out the door as soon as he got sight of grandad, grabbed him by the hand, and they walked slowly through the door, together, hand in hand.
An elderly man, closest the door, started to clap enthusiastically and quickly everyone joined in. Sean seemed a little like a rabbit caught in the headlights but, following a number of greetings under the constant flashing of photographers’ cameras, he appeared to relax.
It was somewhat like a wounded soldier, returned from war, to a hero’s welcome. Indeed nobody could say Sean Quinn and his family haven’t been in the wars for the past decade and more.
Fast forward another 20 minutes or so and the book launch gets underway. The room is packed with all seats taken and around a hundred more people standing along the side. Prolonged applause greet Sean as he saunters into the suite for the official book launch, a pint of Smithwicks in hand, and slowly makes his way to a chair on the stage.
Indeed, clapping and chants of ‘hear hear!’ punctuated the speeches throughout the evening. Following the speeches, Sean spoke briefly, just to say ‘thank you’, his face tear-stained, apparently moved by the sentiments of the speakers and the show of support from the huge crowd.
It was reminiscent of the big election rallies of times past – indeed sitting TDs would want to watch their backs because, judging by the reaction in Ballyconnell on Thursday night, if Sean Quinn were to stand at the next General Election, he would surely take a seat. The man has stated numerous times that he had no interest in doing so but, then again, he never thought he would write a book! Much stranger things have happened.
It’s clear the people who attended the launch strongly believe that Sean Quinn and his family were wronged and they were there to demonstrate their support.
People queued to buy the book – not just one copy but, in many cases, three and four each. And they clutched them to their chests like this was the bible – the Gospel according to Sean at least. They lined up afterwards to have their copies signed by the author, who was swamped with people of all ages and from all walks of life. There was even a bit of a crush, the table almost knocked over as many pushed to get through – one of Sean’s daughters even had to call hotel management at one stage to try to restore some order. Honestly, Sean was a like a rock star signing autographs.
These were honest, decent people who came simply to show their support for the man and his family. The admiration, respect and warmth they had for Sean Quinn was genuine and palpable. It felt, almost, as if the Celt was there to bear witness to this extraordinary event. And it was extraordinary.
On local radio earlier that morning, Sean Quinn said that he had no money (not tens of thousands anyway) and that the only thing he cared about in publishing this book was to tell his side of the story and to keep his reputation intact with the people he cared about – his community.
If that truly was his goal, he has already achieved it and, judging by the book sales in the Russell alone last Thursday night, those tens of thousands are not too far away.
As to what the next chapter will bring for Sean Quinn and his family, the rest is still unwritten.