Perhaps every family does it, perhaps it is human instinct to label people, to divide people into good guys and bad guys. Sometimes opinions seem to be formed on the basis of the slimmest of evidence, sometimes there is no evidence at all, just a piece of hearsay passed on from an uncertain source.
Quinn was one of those people. There seemed nothing in family tradition that specified what he had done to merit his reputation. There was some suggestion that it might have been little more than anti-social behaviour in a deeply conservative community: dead crows being dropped down chimneys was one suggestion.
Documentary support for perceptions of Quinn was to be found a letter from his brother Robert, written from British Columbia in 1909:
Look Will, if it could possibly be arranged to send Quinn out here I will guarantee to get him work and good pay provided he is willing to work. Of course when he is out here, he will have to work and work hard, but the pay is pretty encouraging. Another thing, he will be out of the way, like myself, which means a whole lot more. If my father is not willing to be under any expense write to me again and I may possibly arrange to get him out here myself. It is maybe better to try and pick him up and the only way is to send him out to western Canada, the best country in the world for a man who is willing to work.
Robert’s letter would create the impression that Quinn was a wayward younger brother who needed a guiding hand to restore him to the right path. Except the impression would only partly true.
Genealogical digging reveals that Quinn was six years older than Robert, being born in 1878 while Robert was born in 1881. Quinn had been to the United States in the 1890s. Quinn had been to war, joining the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa. Quinn had received a war gratuity, but had been discharged from the army on the grounds that he was ‘not likely to make an efficient yeoman.’
Perhaps Quinn’s reputation was gained after his return from South Africa. Whatever happened, Quinn was still at home in Co Down when the Great War began.
Ireland had no conscription so Quinn was under no obligation to return to military service, yet he enlisted in 1915 at the age of 37. Illness caused by service with the Royal Irish Rifles meant he was transferred to the Labour Corps. In 1918, at the age of 40, he transferred to the newly established Royal Air Force, serving as a clerk. In 1920, he was transferred to the RAF Reserve.
Perhaps Quinn had done things to merit his reputation, but perhap his reputation was altogether more complex than was suggested.
‘Black sheep’ tend to have many other shades.