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Updated 05/12/2015


The War March of the Clan Suibhne of Fanad

The Sweeneys, an Irish sept of the race of Ua Naill, can trace their ancestry from King Milesius of Spain through line of his son Heremon (King of Ireland; 1015-1028 BC). The sons of King Milesius were the legendary Celtic invaders of Ireland that conquered the land around 1000 BC.

Suibhne (Sweeney) is an old name, a very old name. In Irish it means pleasant and is pronounced SWIvNEYa. There are many High Kings associated with the history of the Sweeney name. There is Conn of the Hundred Battles, the 110th High King of Ireland. He was the mythical brother of Eogan, leader of the Gaelic tribes that settled in the midlands, Western and Northern areas of Ireland.

After the battle of Bannockburn there is no further mention of the Sweeney family in Scottish history. The Sweeneys of Castle Sween had returned to Ireland, where the senior branch went back to Rathmullan, almost in sight of the ancient (c. 1700 BC) stone fort, the Grianan of Aileach, from which they departed almost 200 years previously.

The Mac Suibhne remained a powerful family in Scotland up until the 14th century. They were forced from their territories around Argyll by Robert the Bruce’s sweep across the nation as he attempted to become King of Scotland. The Mac Suibhnes attempted to take back their land but lacked an army strong enough to overpower Bruce. They were forced to leave for Ireland.


They divided into three branches: Mac Suibhne Fanad, Mac Suibhne na d'Tuatha and Mac Suibhne Banagh.  Fanad (official name: Fánaid) is a peninsula that lies between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay on the north coast of County Donegal in Ireland. The origins of the name Fanad are lost in time though there is some speculation that the name derives from an old Gaelic word Fana for "sloping ground". It is also referred to as Fannet, Fanid, or Fannett in older records. 

Rathmullan was the seat of the Mac Sweeney Fanad for the next 400 years, during which time their influence extended from Donegal into Connacht and Munster. In Donegal their principle seats were Doe Castle and Rahan Castle near Killybegs.

All three of the Mac Suibhne clans were victims of Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland in the 16th century. They could not compete with the military strength of Cromwell and had their land taken and given to British settlers.


The name Mac Suibhne evolved into the more English sounding MacSweeney as the British integrated themselves into Irish society. The name then changed further, dropping the ‘Mac’ prefix. People did this because it was difficult to find work if you had an Irish sounding name. The more English sounding Sweeney would have offered a better chance.


Thousands of Sweeneys left Ireland for Britain, American and Australia during the ‘Great Famine’ in the mid-19th century. It is now a popular name around the world.