Sale of the century
Snooker is a game that's been around since the 19th Century, and though we've had our own stars in the game - namely Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor and, more recently, Ken Doherty - it's always been mainly a British institution.
However, Ireland has one claim to fame in the snooker sphere - we can boast the oldest snooker club in these islands. And according to its owner, Fin Ruane, it's possibly the oldest in the world. "I'm the third-generation owner of a snooker club; my grandfather owned it first. It's on the Royal Canal Bank in Phibsboro, and it's 60 years old this year, on Easter Sunday. I'm been in touch with the Guinness Book Of Records in London, and yes, it is the oldest in Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe. They're trying to verify if it's the oldest on the planet. It'd be great if they do," Fin notes, adding, "My grandfather bought the site in 1958, and built the property for £1,000. He was a shrewd businessman. When my dad started courting my mum, he hit it off with my grandfather and started to work in the club. He fell in love with the game, and eventually he became president of the national association."
His dad's love for the game infected Fin and he started to play seriously, and even had thoughts of making it his career. "Like my dad, I was hit with the bug. I played for Ireland junior and senior. I went to England, with aspirations of becoming a professional, and shared a house for four years with Stephen Murphy and Ken Doherty; my closest friends now. During that time though, it hit home that maybe I'm not as good as I think I am," the genial Fin admits.
As it happened, around the time he was musing about his talent or lack of it, his dad became ill, and Fin came home to run the club for him. Sadly, his dad died two years later and Fin took over; while Fin has two sisters and an older brother, he was the only one interested in the club. "The thought of my mum selling it killed me, so I took it over. That was 26 years ago, and I'm still there," he says.
Snooker was extremely popular worldwide in the 1980s, 1990s and even into the 2000s, but there was a lull in recent years. However, according to Fin, it's on the up again. "There were over 70 snooker clubs in Dublin at one stage; now there's only five, including my own. But it's growing again. It's big in India and China. World Snooker are pushing for it to become an Olympic sport, and I've been told it will be on the list, if not for Paris in 2024, then the next one," he says optimistically. "That'll give the game more headlines, more personalities and more money; that's what it boils down to."
Fin himself hasn't been letting the grass grow under his feet; his ambition would be to find and mentor the next Ken Doherty, and to that end he has trained as a top-level coach. He first did his Irish coaching qualification, and set up an academy in his club. Then, last November, he did his world professional coaching badge. "Since then, I've my diplomas on the walls of the club, and it's made a difference. Because I'm one of only two world snooker coaches in Ireland, I'm brought into all sorts of clubs to do clinics. Last week, I was in the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, and the week before, I was in the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club. I did something similar in Grange Golf Club some time ago, and they ended up forming a team and entering and winning a snooker tournament. There's nothing better for me than if a guy comes into me for a lesson, whether he's eight or 80, and I teach him something to improve his game," Fin, who travels to a lot of tournaments with Ken Doherty, and goes to the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield every year, explains with enthusiasm.
The club is open at 2pm, seven days a week; it's purely snooker, no gaming machines, no drink - just tea and coffee and snacks - and according to Fin, his regular customers are a great bunch of guys. "My favourite movie is The Hustler, starring Paul Newman. He goes into an old-style billiards hall and there are posters on the wall, and that's the way my club is. One British writer called it a snooker fan's dream - I was thrilled with that," Fin notes, adding, "People come and say it's like a museum to snooker, and that's the way I like it."
By way of total contrast, Fin's house in south Co Dublin - which he shares with his wife, Marina, and children, Zack (12) and Skye (seven) - couldn't be more contemporary, with the latest in design detail, interior decor and furnishings. Fin carried out much of the work on the house himself - after snooker, and his family, houses and house design are his passion. "We'd been looking at Grand Designs for the last 10 years since we bought our first home in Templeogue in the early 2000s, and we always wanted a great house. When the kids came along, that house was too small and we sold it - unfortunately at a loss, as it was during the crash - and then we couldn't find anything," Fin explains.
The couple rented for three years, and there was such a shortage of nice, affordable houses that they despaired of ever getting out of the rental property. "I had a friend a builder, and he came to every house we viewed, to give us an idea of what we could do with a place. We were prepared to buy anything, a little cottage that needed renovation, whatever was in our price range, really. We went sale agreed on four homes, but there were issues with all of them," Fin says.
Then, one day, he got a call out of the blue - two seemingly perfect houses were to go on sale, and he'd have to move fast as they were to go on the market the next day. "The builder had gone bust. When my friend told me the address I remembered that I'd seen the show house, and it had been way out of our league. But now the houses were a fraction of that price," Fin recalls.
Fin immediately went to view the houses; the catch was they were only half built. "It was a building site," he says. "Builder's rubble everywhere, there were no interior walls, no stairs, no plumbing, no electricity - just windows and a roof." But Fin was still excited.
"We'd seen so many of these property programmes, we could see beyond the building site. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with Nama, but I'll never forget September 11, 2014, - we got the email telling us the house was ours," Fin explains.
The builder started on January 15, 2015, and he said it would be a 12-week build. "I project-managed the build. I contacted every tradesman I knew, and they all came up with the goods. My best man is chief procurement officer in a building company, and he advised us where to get the best deals. It was all completed within the 12 weeks," Fin marvels, adding that they paid particular attention to underfloor heating and insulation to reduce heating bills, as it's such a large house. Fin also did a lot of the physical work himself, including putting in all the light fittings and sockets. "All are low energy, as are the appliances; we want to do our bit towards making the planet greener," he explains.
The double-fronted house was originally supposed to be six bedrooms; they decided they didn't need six, so they reduced it to four large bedrooms, three of which are en suite.
On the ground floor, which is all open-plan - there are no doors, except on the bathroom and utility room - there are two large reception areas, a playroom and a massive state-of-the-art kitchen/dining room.
The decor is very glamorous, with high ceilings and lots of white porcelain, and interesting chandeliers and mirrors throughout the house. But Fin is keen to emphasise that it was all done on a budget.
The whole ground floor - apart from the playroom, which has a timber floor - is floored in white porcelain; it looks expensive, but it wasn't. "We went to a company called Stone Merchant, they had a couple of crates of these tiles which no-one wanted, so we got a great bargain. We even put them on the walls of one of our bathrooms," Fin says, adding a practical note, "They're very easy to keep."
From a design and value perspective, Fin is probably most proud of the staircase. "We didn't want a run-of-the-mill staircase. I said, 'Why don't we go for one of these fancy metal stairs?' However, the prices the stairs companies were quoting were phone numbers. We thought we would have to go back to the idea of a timber stairs," Fin recalls. "Then we were out with a friend one night and telling him about it, and he said he'd make the stairs for us. We'd forgotten that he's a metal manufacturer. He made the stairs, we got a glass company to do the glass balustrades, and a friend, who is a master carpenter, to do the timber rises, and the whole thing saved us an absolute package."
He's also very proud that he did most of the paintwork, himself, thus also saving over €10,000. Fin's pride in the project is palpable, and so it should be; he really made a home from scratch himself. He even created a plaster rippled artwork for one of the reception rooms - "I mixed the plaster and put it up in pieces. I looked it up on the internet; it was a labour of love one weekend," he explains.
He's such a can-do guy, that, should snooker cease to exist, he could consider becoming a grand designer himself.
The Fin Ruane Snooker Academy, CrossGuns Snooker Club, D7, tel: (086) 819-6760, or see crossgunssnookerclub.com
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin