Jack Sweeney (b.1932) and Sr Aloysius Sweeney (b. 1917)
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Jack Sweeney (b.1932) and Sr Aloysius Sweeney (b. 1917)


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Sr Alice (Alys) Sweeney recalls her half-brother, Joseph Sweeney, who was the second eldest of her father’s first family. She herself is the youngest member of the second family, and she comes from Burtonport in Co.Donegal. Jack Sweeney is the son of Joseph Sweeney. He explains his father’s role as a student at St Enda’s College, Rathfarnham and as Patrick Pearse’s courier. There had existed a family connection with St Enda’s, and Charlotte Gallagher, a relative of the Sweeney family who was present during the recording, explained that Pearse had visited Donegal on a few occasions and was well known to both the Johnny Edward Boyle and Johnny Rua Sweeney families, which accounted for the attendance at St.Enda’s of children from both families. Alys talks about her father, Johnny Rua, and remembers him as a quiet man. Jack explains that when his grandfather discovered what was about to happen in Dublin in 1916, he telegraphed his son Joe to suggest that he should come home. Although he did not want his family involved initially, he was later proud of what they had done. Alys was much younger than her half-brother Joe, and does not remember him as a young man. She entered the convent at the age of 17, and she remarks that her own mother had much respect for him. Jack talks about the effect on his father of later events, up to 1922. He had joined the Irish Army along with his brothers though he served for a longer period, as they retired following demobilisation. Joe Sweeney’s role in 1916 is examined by Jack who explains that he went from Rathfarnham to Liberty Hall in the city centre, where he was ‘sorting it out’ ready for action. He was then ordered by Pearse to report to the GPO which he safely reached, and was directed to a first-floor window. The following day he was posted as a sniper on the roof where he was to remain for the rest of the week. He is credited with stopping a makeshift armoured car during this time, and following the evacuation he helped carry James Connolly’s stretcher to the HQ in Moore Street. Joe was arrested and sent to Stafford Prison along with Michael Collins, Dr Jim Ryan and others. Later they were moved to Frongoch in Wales. Alys recalls her brother Joe Sweeney, who took after their father, she says, and Jack takes up his father’s story following his return home from captivity. It had been Joe’s intention to complete his engineering studies at University College Galway, but following an illness he returned home and joined up with local Volunteers while working in his father’s business. His role in the War of Independence in the north-west is described. When the British landed by destroyer at Burtonport, his two brothers were captured, and his father and the local commanding officer of the Volunteers were arrested. Joe evaded capture by hiding for a time in a secret cubby-hole and, dressed in women’s clothes, he took a child by the hand and got to a safe house. Charlotte ‘Cha’ Gallagher explains how the safe room in the house was designed and Alys mentions two other rooms in the house which could have been used for safety purposes. Two adjoining houses made up Sweeney’s Hotel in Burtonport, the original having been extended for living quarters for the family. Jack talks about his father’s relationship with Michael Collins, whom he greatly respected. During the revolutionary period, Joe Sweeney organised events in Donegal. From 1923 to 1940 he served in the Irish Army, reaching the rank of Major General, and he was appointed Chief of Staff on two occasions (Acting Chief of Staff during the “so-called” Army Mutiny of 1924 and also for two years from 1929 to 1931). Jack recalls the 1966 Commemoration when Joe Sweeney was the President of the 1916-21 Club. This Club was run by the veterans themselves until their numbers were reduced by the passage of time. Jack understands that it was resurrected and is now quite active once again. Alys explains that owing to the age difference between herself and Joe, their lives went in different directions, though she got to know him better when he was older. After he left the Army he worked for Canada Life for ten years and joined the Red Cross as National Organiser for six years and as General Secretary for a further six years. Charlotte Gallagher discusses Joe Sweeney’s role in the 1916 Rising and describes the family pride in the fact that he was the only Donegal participant in the GPO. Jack explains that Joe would never discuss events during the Civil War years, but he would always attend various events such as the Collins commemoration at Béal na Bláth, and also the funerals of those from either side in the conflict. Jack explains that his father, as Pearse’s courier, was given the orders for delivery to five of the leaders of the Rising. He delivered four of these – to MacDonagh, De Valera, Tom Clarke and Joseph Plunkett, but could not find Con Colbert to deliver the fifth order. Joe’s father, Johnny Rua, and his stepmother collected his belongings from St Enda’s College, though Jack feels they did not go through the pockets because later, when Joe was hiding in the house, the call-up paper for Colbert was found. Consequently his father and two brothers were arrested, together with the officer commanding the local IRA. Joe Sweeney’s character and his generous nature are described. His mother was Margaret O’Donnell of Kincasslagh. Alys’s mother was Alice Kelly from Roscommon. Charlotte Gallagher remembers her as Chairman of the Congested Districts Board and she recounts an anecdote in relation to this. Joe Sweeney died in 1980 and Alys recalls the military funeral from Dublin to his burial place in Donegal. Jack describes the journey to Burtonport and on to the grave in Dungloe. Joe Sweeney was elected as a representative for West Donegal to the First Dáil (the youngest representative). He was also elected to the second and to part of the third Dáil. He had to make a choice, either politics or army, and he chose the army, his family explains. Alys remarks on the privacy in those days with regard to family achievements and the lack of discussion about politics. Jack describes an incident from his youth with a group of veterans from the 1916-21 Club when, due to lack of experience, he broke with tradition and enquired about ‘which side’ a man was on. He explains how his father dealt diplomatically with this incident.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

52.37 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



Joseph Sweeney (Interviewees’ father and half-brother respectively)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore