He grew up on a farm but wasn't interested in grass -- he wanted the stuff beneath

Emile Laurac

SEAN Quinn was never too fond of farming.

He grew up on the 23-acre family farm in Derrylin on the Cavan/Fermanagh border along with his brother and two sisters.

They milked cows but Sean had his eye on bigger things -- he wasn't interested in the cows or the grass, he wanted what was underneath it.

After his father passed away, he began to put his business plans in motion.

He got a loan to buy some machinery and began to dig. And the Quinn Group was born.

It began as digging gravel in the local area and he quickly surpassed another gravel company in the area, McCaffreys.

He continued to borrow money to expand his empire -- but there was no problem repaying the cash as business boomed.

Along the way he married and had five children, all of whom are now involved in the family business.

He employed many of his workers seasonally, stockpiling the gravel during the dry summer months and then letting the workers go during the lean winter months.

The success of gravel business soon gave him the idea of making cement blocks and ready-mix.

One local man said he decided to start making cement because at the time there could be a delay in having it delivered. "When he said he was going to build a cement factory, another company offered to buy it from him but there was no stopping him."

One former employee said he paid his quarry workers well. "He paid a little better than most," he said.

"But then he changed it so that you were being paid by the load you drew from the quarry. The Polish lads would almost drive across you to get as many loads as they could.

"But even they would say that it couldn't continue. They used to tell us that the Irish economy was 'a bit false'.

"So many of his businesses were connected to the building trade, that was the problem."

Described as a hard worker who "had his eye on the ball all the time", he was spreading his empire further, buying pubs and hotels and building more factories.

But the Slieve Russell Hotel -- which is just behind his huge recently built home -- was always his pride and joy.

"If he came up and was walking around the hotel and saw a dirty ashtray he'd pick it up, clean it, and put it back," said one hotel worker.

"He'd often book a table with a group and it didn't matter what kind of potatoes were in the restaurant that day, you'd have to have new boiled potatoes for him. And prawn cocktail, he always has that for starter."

It was in this hotel he did some of his deals, and where he found translators.

One Russian waitress found herself serving him dinner one day and when he learned she was from the country he was expanding into, he trained her in other parts of his business empire. She later worked as his translator with his business.

His plane was kept at Enniskillen and was flown by another local man who had originally worked in the Slieve Russell before earning his pilots licence. Having the hotels also meant that they could be used by staff in his other businesses.

His pilot would pick up food from the Slieve Russell kitchen to bring on flights around Europe -- and Quinn Insurance staff would have their Christmas parties there.

All staff could also avail of special staff rates at his European hotels. "You worked hard and you got rewarded," said one former employee.

But one other employee who worked there more than 10 years ago told how she had to fight hard to get a pay rise after working there for almost one year. "I earned £2.60 per hour and for three months I asked for an increase.

"I was working 13 hours some days. In the end I said I was quitting. Half an hour later I got my pay rise and I got another 60p an hour."

When his empire first began to crumble Mr Quinn went on television to defend his decisions, and stated that nobody had lost their jobs. However, staff who left were not replaced, and short working weeks in many areas were introduced.

In some factories linked to construction, staff were told that they were being laid off for a number of weeks before being taken back on again.


Hundreds of people on both sides of the Border are employed by Quinn's many businesses. And some more had invested in Anglo Irish Bank when he became involved with the now-toxic bank.

It is believed that some local people invested large sums of money in the bank before it collapsed.

He is hugely liked in the area, not only for giving so much employment, but also because of his generosity.

In 2004, Mr Quinn -- who is said to have lost have a considerable amount of weight lately -- made his helicopter available to a couple who were due to get married.

The groom was due to play for Fermanagh in Croke Park on the day of his wedding -- and the Quinn helicopter was on stand-by so it could bring him to the church on time afterwards.

Yesterday some locals said they were glad that "something happened at last".

"We were all just in limbo, nobody knew what was happening," said one man.

"At least now we've been told the jobs are safe and that's the main thing."

Many have sympathy for the Quinn family -- but others are more scathing. "He had the Midas touch," said one.

"But he gambled and he lost. And he gambled other people's futures. He may have given a lot of employment but he had a responsibility to those people as well."