Well, after all the preparation and work getting organised, it is all over, and what an outstanding success.
Sweeneys and friends from all over the world converged on Donegal for the first rally of the third millennium and a wonderful time was had by all. Old friends of many past rallies were here and we also had a large contingent of new first time visitors. They were staying in hotels and guesthouses right across Donegal and report to us that they were treated like royalty.
The Official Opening at the luxurious Loch Altán Hotel at Gortahork had a large attendance to see Mary Coughlan T.D. Minister of State Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, announce the start of the weekend events.
This was followed by the launch of Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne, a reprint of an ancient book and bible of the Clan, which was out of print since 1920 and copies of the original are extremely rare and expensive if available atall. This new edition is the work of Thomas J. Sweeney of Pennsylvania who was Hon. Chief of Doe for the Rally. He did a very fine job in making available once more this book which will be of great interest to Sweeneys researching their past. Also launched was a CD of the March of Clann Suibhne, also presented by Thomas.
A wine reception and buffet followed by a night of traditional music by Patsy Dan Mac Ruaraí , the King of Tory. The singing went on into the small hours.
The next morning the tour of Doe Castle and Derry as always proved of great interest and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Work is progressing well on the restoration of the Castle tower and the Sweeney Clan Committee are pressing ahead with their plans to have the Grand Hall roofed as well. The appealed to the visitors to use whatever influence they had to add to that pressure on the relevant Government Department.
A walkabout on Derrys ancient city walls was another highlight and even a light misty rain evening failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the packed coach load. A tour of the Bogside and the famous Free Derry Corner and the historic murals on the gable walls brought the visit to Derry to a conclusion. The evening was free for our guests to rest or explore other events around Letterkenny, Dungloe, Gweedore etc.
On a glorious sunny Saturday morning the Sweeney clan went to Glenveigh National Park. First the were treated to an audio visual lecture and then went to the Castle where they were treated to a tour of the Castle and gardens before preparing for the Grand Banquet at the Letterkenny Holiday Inn.
There were two hundred present for the Banquet, which got underway with Cathal MacSuibhne, Chairman of the local committee leading the three chieftains of the clan to the banquet table to the rousing strains of the Clan Suibhne March from the new CD.
Present as special guests were Máire Nic Suibhne Brugha and her husband Ruaraí Brugha. Máire is the daughter of Terence MacSweeney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison for the cause of Irish Freedom. Ruaraí is the son of Cathal Brugha, who fought in the 1916 Rising.
Lawerence Kent Sweeney of Nova Scotia acted as Hon Chieftain of Banagh in the absence of Capt. Richard Mingo Sweeney MacSuibhne Banagh. Thomas J. Sweeney of Pennsylvania acted as Hon. Chieftain of Doe, While Loughlin MacSuibhne Fanad represented the Senior House.
Speaking at the banquet Mr Cathal Mac Suibhne welcomed the guests which included the Chairman of Donegal County Council and the chairman of Letterkenny Urban District Council. He said that the bi- annual Clan Rally was now one of the main events in tourism in Donegal and showed the way for other Clans to emanate. This could be repeated right across the country and every clan could get involved and host rallies at various times of the year bringing a major boost to tourism all year round.
Padraig O Ceallaigh , Chairman of Donegal County Council, praised the work of the organising committee for giving of their time voluntarily to bring about the biggest influx of Sweeneys from the United States to any of the rallies to date.
Kieran Brogan, Chairman of Letterkenny UDC thanked the committee for bringing such a large volume of tourist trade to the town. He said that Letterkenny and Donegal had suffered greatly due to the foot and mouth disease scare which threatened to wipe out tourism this year. He thanked the visitors for coming and expressed his hope that they might return again.
John Sweeney who was MC for the occasion asked the visitors to support the organisation by availing of merchandise and clan membership. He said the website was being expanded and would offer a very wide range of products of interest to the clan such as clan tartan etc.
Sweeney businesses worldwide would be offered low cost advertising, which would allow other Sweeneys to support their own by purchasing from the website advertisers.
"Without your support" he said "the Clan tSuibhne organisation could not survive" and he went on to ask the audience to ensure that on their return to their homes to look around and see if perhaps they could set up " Sweeney cells" and get them to enrol in the clan as life members. He pointed out that they did not receive any funding from any source towards the running of the rally and that so far even with grant aid, past rallies always lost money. Therefore the support of the participants was essential and he thanked them for that support so far.
Loughlin MacSuibhne Fanad spoke of the Priory at Rathmullan and expressed his wish that when Doe was now well on its way to completion that perhaps this was the time to turn our attentions to the Priory. It is in need of urgent attention before any further damage is caused by weather. But he said that it was absolutely imperative that the Great Hall at Doe be roofed so that Doe could once more be a living Castle where people could come, especially the youth on educational trips, to and see how life really was in those distant days. The Clann Suibhne local committee have plans for a museum and banqueting hall there and he remarked that with probably a million Sweeneys out there " ..if everyone of them gave just one dollar, we could roof the great hall and start the museum".
Hugh McGee of the Holiday Inn presented the committee with a prize of two nights B&B and evening meal for five people.
A lively nights music and dancing, and an announcement that the next Clan Rally would be held in September 2003 brought to an end the formal part of the first rally of the third millennium rounded off a most memorable evening.
On Sunday the group went to the American Folk Park in Omagh. The day was glorious with brilliant sunshine and there to greet them were numerous groups from North Carolina who were taking part in the big annual Blue Grass festival which The Folk Park hosts each year.
Belinda Mahaffey of the genealogy section gave an interesting lecture and demonstrated the database which is at the Centre listing many thousand names and among them lots of Sweeneys.
We thank all our visitors for their presence here with us and we wish them a safe journey home to whatever part of the world the came from and we look forward to meeting them again in the year 2003.