The Sweeney Connection As I had mentioned earlier, I first began this project trying to find out if the poem in this article was written by my great-grandmother's brother, Peter (Peadar) Sweeney, of Loughrea, Galway, Ireland. He passed away March 5, 1922 "At the early age of forty-nine years". Peter was very good friends with Arthur Griffith, and was one of the original founders of the Sinn Fein Movement. He spent the early part of the 19th century extremely active in the Loughrea area, in his cause for Home Rule. He had transformed his home into a meeting place, as well as, a distribution place for movement literature. Consequently, he was often harassed and repeatedly jailed. He was one of the first men in the Loughrea area to be arrested after the Easter Rising in 1916, and was sent to Reading Gaol with many others, not to be released until Christmas Eve that year. He later became director of propaganda for South Galway Executive in the campaign for the Republican candidate, Captain Fahy. I would suspect that during the last 10 years or so in his life, his strength was drained, but the final trials came when he spent the last several months of his life on the run from the 'Black and Tans'. His family was also targeted, "And on several occasions his wife was threatened at the point of the revolver to disclose his whereabouts". I never got the impression that Peter was a violent man, just a very political man who wanted desperately for Ireland to be unified and independent of British Rule. I do admit that I am biased on this point. After knowing all of the background on Peter Sweeney, and reading this poem, I feel now that the "Rocks of Bawn" by Patrick Kelly was written about Peter Sweeney, and that this 'reply' poem was written by one of Peter's relatives, possibly one of his sons. Whoever wrote this poem "saw" Patrick Kelly write his. I have not, as yet, found the original words of the "Rocks of Bawn". I have not stopped looking. This poem also has some clues that those in Stormont may not have caught. There was a Daniel MacSweeney imprisoned in 1881 with John Sweeney of Loughrea on the charge of being "Reasonably suspected of being accessory to the crime of murder." This apparently was the going excuse for arrests. John Sweeney kept a diary, and in it mentioned some of the Land League pledgers joining a new group called "Red Branch Knights". Daniel MacSweeney was the President. This ties the phrase "When writ by bold Red Hand." Also, I found that there was a Terence MacSwiney that was arrested after the Easter Rising, and spent the rest of that year in jail with Peter Sweeney and Arthur Griffith, and the men called "Sean Neeson's Canaries". I feel that the current consensus for the lines that are now sung "won't be able to plough the Rocks of Bawn" could be incorrect. I get the feeling that it currently refers to a lifelong struggle of trying to eke out a living, without fulfillment. However, this poem uses quotes in it: "But then I heard you singing loud, 'He'll plough the Rocks of Bawn'". This gives me the impression that the original poem had "He'll plough the Rocks of Bawn" in it somewhere. Also, I feel that this poem refers to Peter Sweeney as 'Piper Sweeney', and that now that he has passed on, Peter has finally found a way to "help the lady fair (Ireland) to plough the Rocks of Bawn (remove British Rule)."
May 21, 2008
I "Oh, rise up, Bard of Connacht,"-- My full heart's voice is sweet; For Piper Sweeney saw you there A-dreaming in the street. As he was first, so I was last; And after he was gone I saw you take your pencil out And write the Rocks of Bawn.
II All weary walked I--Sweeney; My namesake went before. I'd thought our name would never play A part in Ireland's lore. His heart was sad, and sad my own; I said: "His pipes he'll pawn" -- But then I heard you singing loud, "He'll plough the Rocks of Bawn."
III MacSwiney was a gracious name, A Gaelic name and grand; I saw it spelt MacSweeney too, When writ by bold Red Hand; I thought our own a traitor's trick, And cursed the alien spawn, Who looking back in fear, had failed To plough the Rocks of Bawn.
IV But now I'm proud of Sweeney, Who met the woman fair And keeps his piping vigil by The Well of Golden Hair; For Sweeney looked through Sweeney's eyes; He saw a splendid dawn, And he will help the lady fair To plough the Rocks of Bawn.
V He saw the ripples smoothing out The darkling water's face; He said: "The night-wind's dying fast And soon there'll be no trace Of that which was. I'll rest and wait Until the chilling dawn Unbinds the strands of golden hair All on the Rocks of Bawn."
Written by "one of the Sweeneys-without-the-Mac"
UPDATE May 29, 2008:
In Conclusion Although the current version of "The Rocks of Bawn" varies greatly with the original, I would hope that someone somewhere would be interested in making a recording of the original. It would be nice to hear it. I still feel that the poem was written about Peter Sweeney of Loughrea. To 'Plough the rocks of Bawn', could very well mean that Peter needs to help remove British rule. Could it also mean to literally knock down the walls that English-paid landowners built? This in itself would be a topic of discussion. I believe that Mr. Kelly was writing the first stanza about how Peter felt that he had a calling to motivate the people of Ireland (the woman) by 'piping' (using his talent as a public speaker.) In the second stanza, I believe 'her father' is England, and Ireland said "I go with Sweeney." The third stanza could refer to Peter finally seeing 'the light at the end of the tunnel' and seeing his dream coming to a reality (after he helped in the elections of 1918.) It seems to me that in the forth stanza Ireland is saying to Peter: "Now, you can rest, your job is done, and I will meet you in the afterlife." The last stanza could be referring to the 'Black and Tans' coming for Peter, and he knows even then that all will be well in the world, "For Ireland will be free." I am still going to look for the date of the 'reply' poem that started me on this tangent of my family tree. I have requested the microfilmed copies of the "Irish Press" newspapers, and if I find the information, I will post it here. Quite honestly, if there hadn't been so many variations of the poem on the Internet, and so many ideas of where it came from, I never would have started down this long road. I still have a 'weary walk' ahead of me, to determine the 'reply' poem's origin, but I think I have a motivator. Maybe 'it's in the blood', this driving force. I surely would have liked to have met these men a hundred years ago.