The Sweeney Clan Rally got off to a great start on Sunday 5th of September with a large turnout at the old church at Derrybeg for the unveiling of a plaque and a riveting lecture by Mr. Tom Sweeney, MacSuibhne na d'Tuath, on An Piobáire Mór, Turlough MacSuibhne. The hand carved limestone slab is in old style Irish script and hangs alongside a plaque erected some years ago to the famous Fr. MacFadden. The old church where Turlough went to Sunday Mass when he lived in Gweedore is steeped in history and is indeed a fitting place to erect this memorial in his honour.
The Donegal Historical Society in conjunction with Clann Suibhne organised the day's events and Mr Tom Sweeney welcomed them to Gaoth Dobhair. Among those present were Mr Eddie O'Kane chairman, Mrs Kathleen Emerson, Seamus Mac Giolla Dé and many others. Mr Louis Emerson, Curator of the museum at Rossnowlagh provided the fiddle of An Piobáire Mór for display with the kind permission of Mrs Marie Roarty the owner, and was on display in the studios of Radio na Gaeltachta, who sponsored the event and afforded many local people the opportunity of seeing the fiddle which is about one hundred and fifty years old. Mr Emerson took part in a very interesting and lively programme which was broadcast live during the open day at the station, giving a great insight into the museum and some of the interesting artefacts displayed there.
In his lecture Mr Sweeney traced the history of the family and Turlough's life, in particular, from his birth in Ardlaghan near Cloghan to Doochary and Drimnatinny near Falcarragh and finally to Luineach, Derrybeg where he died in 1916 and is buried at Magheragallon cemetery.
After the lecture and unveiling cermony the large gathering went to the grave to pay their respects later that evening.
Later on Sunday evening the focus was on Ostan Gweedore where the latest publication by Clann tSuibhne was launched by Mr Liam O Rónán, County Librarian. The book 'Sween (Suibhne) Clan of the Battle-Axe' was originally published in 1964 by Capt. Richard Mingo-Sweeney of Nova Scotia and has been out of print for some years.
On a visit to Ireland some years ago he mentioned to John Sweeney, who had just completed work on the book 'The Sweeneys Fanad, Doe, Banagh International' and which proved a best seller, that there were some new and very interesting research which he had carried out and as the 'Sween Clan of the Battle-Axe' was noted as a very fine document on Clan History, John Sweeney agreed that a second edition was necessary especially in light of the new research, and undertook the editing. According to John Sweeney, some of the old edition has been taken out and much new is added making it the 'bible' of the Clan history and a must for scholars and those interested in research, as well as anyone wishing to have an insight into clan origins.
The end product is a beautiful glossy production, which received great praise from Mr Liam O'Rónán the County Librarian at the launch. Mr O'Rónán spoke of the importance of our heritage and that it was extremely important that we ensure that it is not lost to future generations. 'The best way to do this is to document facts of history now, lest it be forgotten in time, and lost to future generations' he stated.
Mr John Sweeney said that on his own behalf and on behalf of Capt. Mingo-Sweeney he was indeed very pleased and grateful to Mr O'Rónán for accepting the Clan invitation to launch the book and presented him with the first copy.
Mr Cathal MacSuibhne Clan Chairman presented Mr O Rónán with a specially commissioned tie made by Carabhat Teo. A Falcarragh based company run by Eamon & Francis McCarthy who are currently taking the fashion world by storm.
Máirín Ni Fhearraigh, Clan Secretary who was MC for the evening welcomed the visitors to the rally, which includes strong contingents form the US, Canada, Britain and Ireland, and wished them a happy stay among their roots.
Monday saw a packed coach heading for Ionad Cois Locha and Glenveagh National Park where the visitors were treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, before coming back to Tabhairne Leo for a memorable night with Leo as host for the evening.
On Tuesday due to an adverse weather forecast the planned trip to Gola had to be postponed and instead a tour of the Rosses, Gaoth Dobhair and Cloughaneely was organised. Later that evening they were treated to a céilí mór at Teach Jack in Glassagh.
On Wednesday the tour was to Derry where the were met and afforded a civic reception by the Deputy Lord Mayor Mr. Hay, before heading of to Lifford's Seat of Power where once again the were greeted by the Donegal County Council Chairman Mr Peter Kennedy. The evenings entertainment was at Loch an Iúir's Casadh and tSugan where local musicians teamed up with Scotish Gaelic singers to bring about one of the best nights of traditional Irish and Scottish heard in Donegal.
The main event for many was the Thursday visit to Doe Castle and Castlesween graveyard where Duchas (OPW) have just erected a replica gravestone on the graves of the Sweeney chieftains. The original stone will be housed within the castle when renovation work is complete. Duchas accommodated the visitors by having the castle open especially for the Sweeney party. Máirín Ni Fhearraigh, Sec. of the organising committee thanked Mr John Corcoran, area manager of Duchas, for his assistance in having the grave stone in place and the castle open for the occasion. The visitors were delighted to see the high standard of work being carried out by the craftsmen of Duchas and heard from them first hand the way in which seemingly impossible work was carried out to the tower building with such ease. Great credit is due to those craftsmen, Michael Gavigan of Ballyshannon, Dinny Haran and John Mannion of Sligo and Gideon Moore of Doe for the excellent work being carried out there. Later the party enjoyed lunch in the Carrigart Hotel and a tour of the Rossguil peninsula's Atlantic Drive.
The Killaghtee Gallery was Fridays destination, where Robin and Jacqueline Atkinson warmly welcomed them and brought them on a conducted tour of their magnificent Sweeney museum before going on to Killybegs church to see the tomb slab of the Banagh Sweeneys. The official opening that evening was performed by Fionnuala Sweeney of CNN news at the Gweedore Hotel, while Mr Paddy Harte, Donegal Person of the Year and European of the Year, and Mrs Harte, were special guests. Afterwards the visitors were entertained to a memorable evening of Irish and Scotish traditional music.
On Saturday there were people from all over Ireland joining with the overseas visitors for the Genealogy Seminar. This proves indeed very popular each year, as the guest speaker this year as in previous years was Mr Fergus Gillespie, Deputy Chief Herald of Ireland and head of the Government Genealogical Office. He gave a most interesting lecture on 'Donegal Family History and Heraldry.' Another most distinguished speaker was The Count Randal MacDonnell K.M., Chief of the Name, The MacDonnell of the Glens, who talked and answered questions relating to coats of arms. Other speakers included Mr Steven O'Cualáin of Údarás na Gaeltachta on 'Genealogy as a Marketing Tool', George Nelson of Campbelltown on 'The Scottish Links' and Tom Sweeney MacSuibhne na d'Tuath. MC for the occasion was a very able Mr Fergus Sweeney of the local clan committee.
The Clan Banquet that night attracted over two hundred and fifty people, and once again it was an outstanding success. Mr Cathal MacSuibhne, chairman of the local committee escorted the clan chief Mr Tom Sweeney, MacSuibhne na d'Tuath, accompanied by The Count Randal MacDonnell K.M., to the banquet table to the strains of the MacSweeney Clan March played on harp by Paul Sweeney of Drumkeen. After the meal, Máirín Ni Fhearraigh who was MC for the occasion introduced the speakers. Mr Cathal MacSuibhne thanked everyone involved in preparing for the evening and the visitors for their attendance. He said that the Millennium Rally was an outstanding success and once again proved that what the Sweeney Clan committee had done was possible for all clans, and that this was a massive untapped market waiting to flourish. He mentioned the internet on which the Sweeney Clan have a site and which attracted very many of the American visitors to come here. It was their way of keeping in direct touch with the Sweeney Clan here at headquarters and were able to receive advice in a matter of minutes regarding questions they might have concerning the Rally. He paid a special tribute to John Michael Sweeney for masterminding the website and setting it up, and said it had proved invaluable.
This years rally was somewhat the poorer due to the absence through illness, of Mr Loughlin Sweeney, MacSuibhne Fanad and his wife Mary. The committee felt his absence, as he had been at all the gatherings since 1992, ready to assist and advise and was of course one of the founder members of the original Clan organisation over twenty years ago. John Sweeney PRO read a message for Loughlin in which he expressed his best wishes for the success of the last gathering of the millennium, and his wish to see the Priory at Rathmullan restored to its former glory, now that Doe castle was started and suggested it should be the task facing Clann Suibhne at the start of the new millennium, which was greeted to thunderous applause. John Sweeney sent his best wishes and that of the entire gathering to Loughlin and expressed his wish to see him in Donegal real soon. He also especially welcomed the Sweeney and Bruagh family from Dublin and Cork and remarked that there were three generations of that family present who had travelled from England, Dublin and Cork to attend. 'The Sweeney and Bruagh names are synonymous with the fight for Irish freedom in the history of this country' he said.
MacSuibhne na Banagh, Capt. R. Mingo Sweeney was absent due to distance, but sent his best wishes for the success of the Clan Gathering, and expressed his hope to visit in the near future.
Representing the visitors from the United States was Mr Tom Sweeney of Philadelphia who attended the rally with his entire family. He thanked the organising committee for their smooth running of the event and the manner in which they looked after their guests individually and said he looked forward to 2001 and the next rally. A writer himself, he has completed work on the Sweeneys 'Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne' and had it published recently. Other speakers include Tom Chieftain of Doe, The Count Randal MacDonnell K.M., Fr. Michael Sweeney P.P. Derrybeg. Mr Paddy Harte, Donegal and European Person of the Year, Mr Fergus Gillespie Deputy Chief Herald.
The rally came to a close on Sunday last with a visit to Rathmullan on the eve of the anniversary of the Flight of the Earls (14th Sept. 1607). The Fanad band were in attendance to welcome the visitors and lead them from the Flight of the Earls centre where they were brought on a conducted tour by Bridget Kelly to the Priory where Margaret Carton conducted the tour. Mr Jim Deeny as usual made sure that everything was well organised on behalf of the Rathmullan hosts and Ben Sweeney at a function in the Pier Hotel thanked Mr Deeny and the people of Rathmullan for their warm welcome. He gave a special word of thanks to the Fanad band who looked really smart and played to their usual high standard.