Ruth Sweetman (b. 1942)
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Ruth Sweetman (b. 1942)


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Ruth Sweetman explains the reason why her father, though baptised Richard McEllistrim O’Rahilly, was always known as ‘Mac’. She says that her father spoke very little to her about his father and she feels that her parents felt their children should not be “reared in history”. Mac married Elgin Barry, a sister of Kevin Barry, and Ruth always felt that her mother was traumatised by her brother’s tragic death in November 1920. Ruth is one of four children, having one brother and two sisters (one of whom is now deceased). She explains that she probably did not realise the responsibility of her family history until her late teens. At school, modern history after 1916 was not taught. Her mother Elgin spoke very little about her brother Kevin, and Ruth explains that she and her mother refused to visit his grave. She also recalls her mother saying that her way of coping with terrible things was to shut them out. Elgin O’Rahilly is remembered as a woman of strong character. She was a staunch republican, and though Ruth is not aware of all of her activities during the years between her brother’s execution in 1920 and her marriage in 1935, she knows that she worked at a rosary bead manufacturing business during this period. Ruth lists her father’s younger siblings: Aodogán, Niall, Maolmuire and Ruairí. Her grandfather, The O’Rahilly, had lived in America just after his marriage and again a few years later, and the family finally returned to live in Ireland in 1909. Ruth thinks that his return was motivated by the wish to ensure a sound education for his sons, and she knows that her father attended five or six schools. At almost 17 years of age he began his studies at UCD. Later he qualified as an accountant and later still as a barrister in the mid-1930s. Ruth describes the character of her grandmother Nancy ‘Nannie’ as formidable. Nancy had five sons and no daughters, and she had four sisters. Ruth feels that her grandmother had little interest in girls. Ruth discusses the retreat from the GPO on the Friday of Easter Week, during which her grandfather was killed. She describes him as an idealist, a man who at that time had four children and a wife who was pregnant. He had not wanted the Rising to go ahead and had visited the southern counties in an attempt to call it off. He was disappointed with Pearse and others, Ruth says. His friendship with Desmond FitzGerald is recalled, as is their banishment to Kerry. She explains that the reason why The O’Rahilly built his house in Ventry was so that his sons would learn Irish there. Her father, Mac, did learn Irish on the Blasket Islands. Desmond FitzGerald’s visit to the GPO at Easter Week and his attempt to persuade The O’Rahilly to leave is recalled. Mac O’Rahilly’s career in politics is discussed, and Ruth remembers preparing the campaign literature for his election. He ran for election once for Clann na Poblachta, and he was involved in various other endeavours, such as Trees Ireland, Inland Waterways, Amnesty Ireland and the Irish Association. Her mother’s time as a member of Cumann na mBan is recalled by Ruth, as she explains that she went on hunger strike with others while in jail. At the end of her life she was once hospitalised and Ruth recalls that during her post-operative care, she imagined that she was back in jail. Elgin was initially opposed to the re-interment of her brother Kevin Barry’s remains, but towards the end of her life she changed her view. For some time, the National Graves Association had wished to exhume and reinter the remains in Glasnevin Cemetery, but Elgin died before the re-interment took place in 2001. Ruth remarks that her mother seldom spoke about her family’s history. She always remained friendly with Sighle Humphreys, who was Mac’s first cousin, and Mary Andrews (née Coyle). When Ruth’s father died he was the oldest Junior Counsel at the Bar. He loved art, history, literature and theatre and was a very sociable individual. Amongst his many friends were Seán and Kid MacBride. The historical memorabilia of the Barry and the O’Rahilly families is considered. Her mother’s papers were left to Ruth’s family. Eunan O’Halpin (a second cousin) went through the papers for the family, and they are now at UCD. Her father left very few papers, and Ruth is currently going through his diaries but she reports that there is little information of interest. The Barry family is remembered. Kevin and his sister Elgin were close, with only 11 months separating them in age. Ruth reflects on the way in which Michael Joseph O’Rahilly is remembered. Her father helped Marcus Bourke with his book, The O’Rahilly, she says. She praises her Uncle Aodogán’s book Winding the Clock: O’Rahilly and the 1916 Rising, and she thinks that he was most like his father in his innovative nature. As a very young man he started his own tile manufacturing company, Weatherwell Ltd, and later he formed Greenore Ferry Services, and he ran these successful businesses for many years. He was also involved in the initiation of Bord na Móna. Ruth feels that the tragedy of her grandfather was that he realised that the Rising could not succeed. His famous remark:“I’ve helped to wind the clock, I’ve come to hear it strike” is recalled but Ruth also repeats his words to Countess Markievicz about the ‘glorious madness’. Richard ‘Mac’ O’Rahilly was instrumental in commissioning the Kevin Barry commemorative stained glass window for Earlsfort Terrace in 1932, and it was possibly at this time that Ruth’s parents met. The designer of the window was Henry King and the work was carried out by the Harry Clarke Studios. The window is now reinstated in the UCD Belfield campus. Mac and Elgin married in August 1935. Ruth recalls her maternal grandmother’s frequent visits and she is remembered as a lovely person who was very interested in her grandchildren, but does not recall the same warmth in her paternal grandmother, Nannie.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

43.28 MB

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Michael Joseph O’Rahilly (Interviewee’s grandfather) Richard M. O’Rahilly and Elgin O’Rahilly (née Barry) (Interviewee’s parents)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore