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MCSWEENEY Family History

Mac Suibhne- anglicised as MacSween(e)y, McSween(e)y, Swee(e)ny, MacSween, with up to 30 earlier variants, such as McSwiny, M'Sweeny & c. The root word is personal name Suibhne, which Woulfe states means 'well-going', q.v. 'Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall', 1923. There is also a Norse personal name Sveinn, meaning 'boy' or 'servant'. Since the MacSweeneys were likely of mixed Gaelic-Norse descent, as many Galloglas (Scottish mercenaries) were, this may well be relevant.

The Galloglaigh or Gallowglass foot soldiers were fierce, heavily armed fighting men, normally emanating from the Scottish Islands and Highlands. Of such were the MacDonnells/MacDonalds. The MacSweeneys, probably crossing over from Argyle, arrived in Co Donegal in the 14th century, according to most authorities, where they were hired by chiefs such as the O Donnell. However, they may well have been involved in Ireland before that date as Murrough MacSweeney's death (hardly a natural one) is recorded in the Annals of Connacht in 1267: 'Murchad MacSuibne was captured in the Owles by Domnall son of Magnus O Conchobair, and delivered up to Walter Burke, Earl of Ulster. He afterwards died in the Earl's prison'.

MacFirbis' 'Genealogies' actually claims their descent from one Donnsléibe Ó Néill, who was a chieftain in Argyle, and whose son Suibne was the eponymous ancestor of the clan. This O Neill may or may not have been of the 'race' of the Ulster O Neills. At any rate MacSweeneys had, by the middle of the 14th century, set up septs on the Irish model in Tyrconnel, Co Donegal. The three branches were known as Mac Suibhne Fánaid, Mac Suibhne Báinigh and Mac Suibhne na dTuath. The first of these held Rathmullen Castle, and their kin spread into Kilmacrenan Barony. Banagh is the name of the barony, which includes the most westerly part of the Donegal coast, and MacSwines Bay. The last were lords of Tuathe Toraighe, including Tory Island.

It was a scion of the first mentioned above that migrated to Muscraighe (Muskerry) in Co Cork in the early 1500s, where they soldiered for the MacCarthys. In Cork they held several castles, and were apparently famed for their hospitality. Capt Bryan MacSweeney, commander of Kilbrittane Castle, South Cork, is named as a commander of rebel militia in the 1641 'Depositions', and accused of ordering the murder, or turning a blind eye to the murder of English Protestants.

By the time of the 1659 'Census', an incomplete survey Ireland's population by Cromwellian bureaucrat Sir William Petty, MacSweeney is described as a 'Principal Irish Name' in the following counties:

Boylagh & Banagh (all specified here are baronies, unless otherwise stated), MacSwyne 7 (figures are for families); KillmacCrennan, MacSwyne 39.

Leynie, McSwyne 7; Corenn, McSwyne 6

Mayo is missing from the 'Census'.

City & Liberties, MacSwyny 8.

Eligurty & Ikerrin, Swyny 8.

Griffiths' 'Primary Valuation' of Irish households in the 1850s has the following: Sweeny, Total No 1879, highest in counties Cork 544, Donegal 321, Mayo 204, Kerry 96 and Tipperary 89. Sweeney, Total 640, highest in counties Donegal 145, Cork 145, Kerry 48. McSweeny, Total 119, mostly Cork and Kerry; McSwiney, 33, 25 of which in Cork city.

The 1890 births distribution figures (Matheson, 'Special Report...' 1894) show most Sween(e)y births occurring in counties Cork, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry. Totals: Sweeney 166; Sweeny 82. McSweeney had 29 occurrences, mostly in Co Cork.

Two Famous Members of the Family:

Terence MacSwiney (1877-1920) the lord mayor of Cork whose 70 day hunger strike sent reverberations around the world. His death as a martyr for Irish independence perhaps sounded the death knell of British rule in all Ireland.

Thomas William Sweeney (1820-1892) born in Cork, went to the U.S. where he enlisted as a soldier; he finished up as a brigadier general. In the Civil War he gained notoriety by answering the call to surrender the arsenal at St Louis (to Confederate forces) that he would rather blow it up. His strong character showed up again in his agreeing to lead the Fenian raid into Canada in 1866.

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Dave Sales

Clonmel 1886 My great grandmother


Robert F Sweeney (1926-1999) was the first chief judge of the appeals court of Maryland. My mother was Patricia Ann Sweeney. Lineage Edmond McSwiney (1775-) Boherbue, County Cork John McSwiney (1804-1871) Boherbue, County Cork Bryan McSwiney (about 1838~1875) Baltimore, Md Denis Bryan Sweeney (1872-1950) Baltimore John J Sweeney (1898-1951) Baltimore Robert F Sweeney (1926-1999) Baltimore


Reference my note about Thomas McSweeney - the email address shoud read


Go to Maltas Irish Ghost on Google and find my basic story of Thomas McSweeney,which has appeared in several magazines over the years. I have now written a novel, fictionalising his tragic tale by connecting his execution to the Irish Famine of 1845, the Easter Rising and the Peace Talks of recent times. The book should be on sale inside four months and it would help me with the publishing if I could get an indication of who might be interested. Please email me at


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