Buncrana barrister embraces family tree

When he's not lecturing in Law at Donegal's only third level institution, Buncrana man, Sean Quinn, is indulging his other passion - genealogy.

For researching surnames, his paternal and maternal family names from all over Inishowen and Ireland, has been a life-long love.

“I’m a genealogy nut. My father sowed the seeds of my interest in genealogy and surnames, and I have been unable to rid myself of this hereditary affliction,” laughs the father-of-three, who was once a classmate of An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahearn and university colleague of Justice Minister, Michael McDowell.

A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Sean Quinn modestly shrugs off any description of him having enjoyed “a distinguished career”, but his CV, by any standards, is enviable.

Since 1977 he has been a Barrister at Law, he has been a respected lecturer in the subject at Letterkenny Institute of Technology for the past 22 years, and is the author of 13 books including ‘Criminal Law in Ireland’, on which he is working on a fourth edition. He has also written books on genealogy and surnames and is an expert on European Law and occupational pension scheme legislation. On April 4th, he was elected President of the Irish Association of Law Teachers, at the organisation’s 25th anniversary conference held in Derry. At the conference, he called for the scrapping of the Offenses Against the State acts in their entirety. He believes the acts carry over from a ‘repressive era’ and do not point the way forward for the law, in the context of future political development in Ireland.

“In the case of the recent troubles, such legislation prolonged the troubles rather than helped resolve them. Furthermore, in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, the provisions of the acts, are anomalous.” he states.

Despite a busy schedule, he has also found time to embrace the internet revolution, and has set up around 12 websites including www.Irish-law.com; www.IrelandEU.info; www.IrishAncestors.net and www.Irishsurnames.info.

As someone so well versed in family trees, he is clearly proud of his own Inishowen beginnings. He has named two of his children after his late parents Ena (nee McLaughlin), from Clonglash, Buncrana, and his late father, Joe, who came to Buncrana from Carndonagh at the age of 15.

“I was born in my mother’s home in Clonglash, as was my sister, Marie. Many summers of my young life, were spent in Clonglash, with my brothers and sisters, Marie. Conal, Donal, Patricia and Ethna. My mother was born and reared in Clonglash, but only my uncle Harry, who is 80 years old, is left at home now.

“The McLaughlins/Dohertys, were from that part of Inishowen as far back as you can go and I am more an O’Doherty than anything else,” he said.

“My father Joe, came to Buncrana at 15 years of age from Carn. My grandparents, John Quinn and Ann Murray, were reared in Derry. My grandfather was a guard on the Lough Swilly Railway and as he was Adjutant Derry City Batallion IRA, he moved out of Derry in 1922/1923.”

In one famous incident, John Quinn refused to allow British soldiers travel on the Lough Swilly railway from Derry, during the War of Independence.

Sean’s own parents were married in Glasgow, where Ena worked for a spell, while his father would go on to become a well known professional boxer. “He served his time as a fitter in the Lough Swilly, but could not get work near home,” he said

Currently, the local lawman divides his time between Letterkenny and the family home in Bray, Co Wicklow, where his wife, Longford native, Anne Farrell and the couple’s three children, Ena Kathleen (16); Niall Domhnal (14) and Eoghan Conall (9) live. He married Anne in 1986 and the couple honeymooned in Turkey.

“I lived in Letterkenny most of the time but my wife an children live in Bray, Co Wicklow. I have spent most of my lecturing career driving through British Army checkpoints in my own country.”
He is clearly political and has strong views on the current Fianna Fail/PD coalition, about the peace process and about what an Irish Republic should be.

“I feel that Gerry Adams has done much for the cause of Ireland and that history will accord him the same standing as Parnell and O’Connell. I wish to see a 32-county Irish Republic but the current antics of Bertie and Michael (McDowell) are messing up the peace process.”

Nevertheless, he doesn’t see much hope for Irish Government in the main opposition parties either. “I’m glad Fine Gael and their friends are not in Government. Bertie was in my class at school and we had a long argument about DeValera in 1966. I never doubted where he was going.

Michael McDowell was in my class in UCD and I never doubted where he was going either!” he declares.

Like many young Donegal men and women, the 52-year old lawyer experienced a slice of life in his early years, touring around Europe and working in the US.

“In 1974, I hitched around Western Europe for six weeks, it was my grand tour. Before that in 1970 and 1971, I worked in the States, I did everything from houseman, dishwasher, busboy, waiter, shortorder cook, porter and janitor. I have swept the streets of both London and New York for my education.

“These days, I find travel exhausting and do not like airports,” he explains. An abiding interest in politics, however, would set the young Donegal man up for a career in law, while his “hereditary affliction” with genealogy would steadfastly remain.

“My interest in law stems from my interest in politics. I have a strong view on what is right or wrong. I would like to perfect my book ‘Criminal Law in Ireland’ and am currently working on a fourth edition.”
Future projects he would like to embark upon, is a book on pensions law, as well as establishing himself in practice at the Bar of Ireland, North and South.

“On November 17, 2003, I re-entered the Law Library in the Four Courts, 25 years to the day I left it. I had intended to return to the bar for some time, but you don’t notice the years passing.
“I believe in justice for the ordinary people and I would like to think I could do something to achieve that.” he said.

While he admits to not being an avid reader of fiction or poetry, he hasn’t ruled out writing something fictional in the field of genealogy in the future.

Meanwhile, he continues to enjoy lecturing at LYIT and - notwithstanding a no-nonsense, practical and wry teaching style - many of his students since he began at the then ‘Regional’ in 1982, have kept in touch.

“I like to teach law. It’s a great way to learn the law. I like to dissect the various statutes and I like to give out about the useless wasters who have been elected as our legislators and do not do their job properly. I suppose I enjoy “sounding off” in front of the students. But I hope that I have always been straight with them.

Courtesy of the Donegal Democrat