During the turbulent War of Independence and the ensuing Civil War in Ireland Sweeneys took a prominent part in both. One immediately thinks of Terence MacSwiney the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hungerstrike in 1920. Or perhaps Major General Joseph A. Sweeney a Donegal (see separate accounts of both later). But there were others who played their part in those dark days in Ireland and who might not have been given due recognition. One such man was Michael MacSweeney who was Commandant in the old IRA 1918 - 1921 in Patrickswell Co Limerick and of whom his son Daniel supplied us with the following story and photographs.
His ancestors came from Donegal circa. 1600's to County Cork and he tells us that the Sweeneys/MacSweeneys own lots of land around the Macroom area. Documentation as far back as 1876 show Sweeneys as registered owners of large tracts of farmland, some of between 500 acres and 100 acres. (Daniel has a complete list of those landowners 1876). Daniel's family originated in North Cork. His mothers people from the Cullon, Kanturk Knocknagree areas. His fathers (Michael's) family moved from Macroom to Ballyanrahan, Patrickswell County Limerick about 1876 to a two hundred acre farm where Michael was born in 1890.
Conscription was introduced in Ireland in April 1918 by Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson, who was British Secretary of State for War. In his opinion there were about thirty thousand men available in Ireland who could be used as cannon fodder in the first world war. Immediately there were anti-conscription meetings held throughout Ireland and Limerick was to the fore. It was the opinion of the young Irishmen of the day that they would rather die fighting for the freedom of Ireland at home, than on a foreign field on a promise of home rule for their services. This ploy was used before in Irish history and later reneged on. In Kildimo village about eight miles from Patrickswell there was an anti-conscription meeting held which was attended largely by young farmers sons and farm workers who were later to prove a great asset when engaging enemy forces, knowing the terrain extremely well. Michael who was twenty eight years old at that time was proposed as Commandant of the local brigade of the Irish Republican Army at that meeting. At first he was reluctant to take on the task but was persuaded and before the meeting was over he was Commandant of C. Company. He was not married at that time but in June he married a Co Cork lady.
That same month General Lucas of the British Army and two other officers who were fishing on the Black Water near Fermoy, while returning to their hotel, were captured by the I.R.A. After a while the two officers were freed but the General was held captive. To avoid detection the General was imprisoned at various locations in the South West. He was transferred to Commandant MacSweeneys care eventually. During this time, Mrs MacSweeney prepared meals for him and her husband brought them to the General who was being guarded by a party of four men on shift duty. Mrs MacSweeney was later to recall that one of those on guard duty was Bill Fenton of Barnakyle who stood six foot three or more and lived to the grand age of ninety three years.
General Lucas did not escape as was reported in the British press, but was released by his captors. On instructions received from Headquarters in Dublin he was transferred from Limerick to East Clare, taken by boat during the night across the Shannon.
When the General returned to England after his freedom he was asked how he got on with the IRA. He replied that he was 'treated by a gentleman like a gentleman' and was brought a bottle of whiskey and 'meals of the best' It is obvious that the General and the Commandant had the height of respect for each other.
Commandant Michael MacSweeney's wife gave birth to a son, Kevin (now deceased) ten days before General Lucas's wife gave birth to their son at their home in England.
His only daughter was Christened Ita Peace MacSweeney (born 3rd July 1921 now deceased).
We are very grateful to his son Daniel MacSweeney, Ballyanrahan, Patrickswell, Co Limerick who resides on the family farm of two hundred acres and where the IRA met during those turbulent days of the War of Independence for the information contained in this article and which we hope to include in our next edition of The Sweeneys Fanad, Doe, Banagh, International, being prepared at the moment.
At the Truce on July 11th 1921, which was passed in the Dáil by 64 votes to 57 on the 7th January 1922, Michael resigned from the Irish Republican Army as Commandant of the C Company and took no part in the Civil War which followed, believing no doubt that brother should not fight brother, as was the case.
In this barn the IRA met and trained during the war of independence.
It was ideal for a quick get-away in case of a swoop by British Forces.
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