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Mac Sweeney Doe Chiefship: Reply to Mr Sweeney

Key quotes:

On 27 July 2005 National Library Director Aongus Ó hAonghusa wrote: 
'It is clear from the file that Mr O Donoghue [Chief Herald] granted no recognition to Mr Sweeney'.

It is now up to you, Mr Sweeney, to publish the full text of Ms Mac Conghail's 2003 report, or effectively admit that your claim to chiefship is based merely on family lore as opposed to acceptable documentary evidence.

        Rather than dealing fairly with the specific criticisms I have raised with him in correspondence and in my report on his claim to chiefship, Mr Thomas Sweeney has unfortunately chosen to publish a series of personal attacks on his website at, transferred 1 July 2005 to and now swollen to a rather spectacular 30,000-word and rising exercise in evasion, obfuscation and plain abuse. Most of the points raised are rather petty and indeed unpleasant, including an allegation that I am guilty of 'jiggery-pokery', criticism of my use of the initials 'MA' after my name in reference to a university degree, an attempt to damage my standing with an employer, a suggestion that I am akin to a 'used car dealer', that I cannot remember my grandfather's name (I am named after him!), and much more in this vein. Mr Sweeney makes copious references to 'Dr' Kenneth Nicholls, implying that in some way his work negates mine. While Mr Nicholls is indeed an eminent scholar to whose work I have often had occasion to refer, he does not in fact possess a doctorate, and there is no evidence that he has supported Mr Sweeney's claim to chiefship in any way.
        More seriously, Mr Sweeney has alleged that my account of my role in exposing the Mac Carthy Mór hoax has been shown to be false by Cecil Humphery-Smith OBE, to which charge I have elsewhere made a more than adequate response. Much is made of the fact that in 1992 then acting Deputy and now Chief Herald Fergus Gillespie signed the infamous Mac Carthy Mór certificate 'per pro' or on behalf of Chief Herald Begley: a signature is a signature, and it should of course have been refused on principle by both officials, who it is now clear must both have known that MacCarthy's claim was suspect. Furthermore, a copy of a letter from Terence MacCarthy to Mr Gillespie dated 27 October 1991 has now come into the writer's possession, and this shows clearly that the latter was closely involved in the validation of MacCarthy's spurious claim to chiefship.
        If my report is 'semi-researched' and the report of his professional genealogist Máire Mac Conghail is complete, as Mr Sweeney alleges, then why not prove this to be the case by releasing the full text of the latter? One increasingly tends to suspect that there may well be even more glaring weaknesses in the earlier section of the report commissioned by Mr Sweeney, touching on the admittedly difficult and indeed, as the writer knows well, frequently impossible task of proving descent of Gaelic and Catholic families in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The ancestry of the present writer, of Terence MacCarthy and his late grand-uncle Terence Maguire, of Mr Sweeney apparently, and indeed of a majority of us, cannot be traced back much before 1800 due to paucity of surviving records, in which fact of course there need be no shame whatsoever.
          Mr Sweeney also states that I fail to understand that I have 'no right and no authority to see or judge Ms Mac Conghail's report', and that my 'insistent requests' for access to the report were 'regarded by The Mac Sweeney Doe Clan steering committee as ill-mannered and arrogant' (comment formerly on As Mr Sweeney has persistently questioned my credentials, I consider it reasonable to point out that as well as being a qualified historian and an experienced educator and professional genealogist, my expertise in respect of the pedigrees of Irish chiefly families in the modern period (repeat, in the modern period) is well proven and second to none, as I have issued carefully researched and properly referenced reports above my name, I helped check and update the pedigrees of bona fide Irish chiefs for the 2003 edition of Burke's Peerage, and I have recently had published a full-length book, entitled Twilight of the Chiefs: The Mac Carthy Mór Hoax. Furthermore, and I choose my words carefully here, the skills of a specialist rather than a generalist, no matter how able, are required if claims to Gaelic chiefship are to be investigated properly.
        As of May 2006, Mr Sweeney has taken to alleging that the Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical (formerly Local) Studies is an unregistered business operating in breach of the Companies Act, a very serious charge which if true would render the writer subject to stringent legal penalties. In fact the Centre is not and never has been a commercial business, charges no fees whatsoever, and has been operated solely by the present writer for over a decade as a vehicle for voluntary genealogical and historical research and publication, in particular, research on Irish chiefship. It is true that I once had hopes that others might join me in the work of the Centre, but the threats and abuse which my work on bogus and questionable chiefs provokes have persuaded me that it is best that I continue to work alone. My professional work is kept separate, and I operate as a self-employed individual under my own name who is now and has always been tax compliant. This fresh and maliciously false allegation by Mr Sweeney is yet another attempt to divert attention away from the questions raised about his claim to chiefship, and having contacted the Companies Registration Office I am satisfied that I am not in breach of any regulation and that no complaint exists against me on that score.
        Mr Sweeney makes much of the fact that I lack a 'professional qualification in Irish', such as he implies his professional genealogist possesses but does not actually specify, claiming that this disqualifies me from investigating claims to Gaelic chiefship. While fluency in Gaelic may be a commendable accomplishment, it need not, and indeed in the present case did not confer any particular ability in researching a chiefly lineage in the modern period, when the bulk of the sources are in English. While I have not pursued the subject academically, my late father was a native speaker and of course I am reasonably competent in the Irish language, even to the extent of being able to recognise raiméis when it presents itself. In the present case I have taken due account of sources in Gaelic, not alone those where English translations are provided, for example, Annala Rioghachta Eireann (Annals of the Four Masters), Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne (Rev Paul Walsh's account  of the MacSweeneys), Leabhar Genealach (the Great Book of Irish Genealogies), but those entirely in Gaelic, for example, Leabhar Muimhneach (the Book of Munster), and articles on the piper Tarlach Mac Suibhne in Béaloideas, 1964, and the Donegal Annual, 1978. Are there perhaps other relevant sources in Gaelic referred to by Mr Sweeney's professional genealogist, and again might not it be a good idea to release the full text of her report so that it can fairly be compared with mine?
        Mr Sweeney has now assembled as well a formidable battery of prestigious names who he claims stand against my work (see part 16 of his webpage at, but I would imagine that most of these would be quite surprised to see themselves enlisted as authorities in defence of his claim to chiefship, not least the State Examinations Commission Office! Truly what we have here is another smokescreen, brat deataigh to use Mr Sweeney's own phrase. In any case, before his hoax was publicly exposed by myself and others, that master of smoke and mirrors Terence MacCarthy 'Mór' could advance in support of his chiefship such illustrious names as President Mary Robinson, Chief Herald Donal Begley, Deputy (and now Chief) Herald Fergus Gillespie, two former Taoisigh, the author Peter Berresford Ellis (now a supporter of Mr Sweeney), a prominent university historian, and so on.
        The writer's report on the Mac Sweeney Doe chiefship quotes a point in the code of conduct of the US Board for Certification of Genealogists: 'I will not publish or publicize as fact anything I know to be false, doubtful, or unproven; nor will I be a party directly or indirectly, to such action by others' ( The code of practice of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland,  placed online in or about December 2005, contain a similar provision, but omits the 'doubtful' element ( The writer's report also cites the Board for Certification of Genealogists' Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), which consists of five principal elements: 'a reasonably exhaustive search; complete and accurate source citations; analysis and correlation of the collected information; resolution of any conflicting evidence; and a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion' ( Because the full text is supplied, it is possible to judge how far the present writer's report accords with the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), but there is no similar opportunity in relation to the report of  Mr Sweeney's professional genealogist, as there is continuing refusal to release it. If it is the case that the report of Mr Sweeney's professional genealogist 'validated' his now abandoned line of descent via Donnchadh Fheargal, there is a clear ethical duty to issue a correction and acknowledge that my criticisms were well founded, because with respect, the skill at issue here is not fluency in Gaelic, but ability to check pedigrees.
        As pointed out in the main report on Mr Sweeney's claim to chiefship, the National Library has now distanced itself from him and repudiated his inference that he has been validated as Mac Sweeney Doe by the Office of the Chief Herald. On 27 July 2005 National Library Director Aongus Ó hAonghusa wrote: 'It is clear from the file that Mr O Donoghue [Chief Herald] granted no recognition to Mr Sweeney'. Mr Sweeney's continuing efforts to exculpate current Chief Herald Gillespie from any involvement in the Mac Carthy Mór hoax only serve to increase the man's embarrassment by continually reminding the world that his signature appears on MacCarthy's spurious 1992 certificate of recognition alongside that of then Chief Herald Begley. Both officials had a clear duty to refuse MacCarthy's application for recognition as a chief, as Mr Sweeney's was refused, and I say again that if apologies are in order, they should come not from me but from those who validated MacCarthy's hoax and provided him with official documentation which he used to rake in millions from his too trusting followers.
        Perhaps in rage or desperation, Mr Sweeney has now intensified his blackguarding of my reputation, amplifying an old malicious charge'Mr Murphy admitted, 05-09-2006, that he examined the research results of another MacCarthy Mór investigator (p.m. 28 June 1999?). Therefore, the amended version of the MacCarthy report posted by Mr Murphy two days later (30 June 1999) cannot be regarded as all his own work.' I 'admitted' no such thing, and now repeat that that my Mac Carthy Mór report of 16 June 1999, which in slightly amended form was posted on the Internet on 30 June 1999, was based on my own research, which again was entirely unpaid. At a later stage I saw the interesting but eccentrically compiled anonymous report to which I think Mr Sweeney may be referring, as well as the basic report of Paul Gorry commissioned by Chief Herald O Donoghue and released only after I made a Freedom of Information application. I made appropriate use of the anonymous and Gorry reports only after thoroughly checking them, and both are properly cited in my 2004 book, Twilight of the Chiefs. Mr Sweeney also takes me to task for taking two years to research my Mac Carthy Mór report of 1999, an effective charge of care and caution to which I have to plead guilty, noting that it took another five years of research before my full-length book on the affair was completed. Truth may be a complicated thing to unravel, but lies are even more so. Finally, speaking of being candid about reports, if the oft-mentioned report compiled for Mr Sweeney by Máire Mac Conghail in 2003 is really as conclusive and effective as he implies, he would surely have released it in full by now, rather than concealing it from public view. I accept that although its compiler was nominated by a Chief Herald of Ireland, this was a privately commissioned report, and I suspect that it may be a cause of embarrassment, because from the small portion released it can be seen that the evidence cited is insufficient to prove Mr Sweeney's claim to chiefship. However, as this report is continually put forward as an allegedly superior production to my published analysis, I must continue to press for sight of the full text. How about it, Mr Sweeney, everyone can read and judge my reports for themselves, don't you have enough faith in Ms Mac Conghail's 2003 report to release it?
        In an amendment to his webpage dated 19 November 2007 Mr Sweeney indicates that my continued challenge to his claim to be Mac Sweeney Doe constitutes slander or libel, and repeats that he has a report from a professional genealogist nominated by the Chief Herald of Ireland to prove his claim ( Interestingly, Terence MacCarthy was in the habit of threatening critics with proceedings for libel (indeed going so far as to orchestrate the infamous MacCarthy versus Horak case in Italy), and before I published my report in June 1999 which exposed him as an impostor, he could point out that he held an unchallenged certificate of recognition as Mac Carthy Mór signed by both a Chief Herald and his then acting deputy ( Mr Sweeney will not produce the full text of his professional's report so that it can be evaluated, and the present writer believes that it attempts to validate a now abandoned version of his pedigree, and so may constitute something of an embarrassment to all concerned. In a further amendment to his webpage dated 26 November 2007, Mr Sweeney denied that his professional genealogist validated a now abandoned version of his pedigree, stating that a '1909 genealogy' was posted on his website 'c2000 but was not amended until 2005', which delay allegedly gave rise to 'a monumental blunder' on my part. If blundering is involved, the fair minded will perceive that it applies not to me but to one who has published several versions of his pedigree over the years, all inadequately documented and containing anomalies. The current edition of Mr Sweeney's very variable pedigree, appearing on his website at since September 2006, gives three possible fathers for his alleged ancestor Donnchadh Oge, who is claimed to have died in France after 1691, namely Maol Mhuire ('Donegal-based accounts'), Murrough (John O'Donovan's pedigree) and Edmund (1909 oral pedigree, named Donnachadh Fhergal). Which if any of these three versions can Mr Sweeney claim to be the 'correct' one, why so, and which if any has been validated by his professional genealogist? Again, Mr Sweeney has explained his 'correction' of O'Donovan's pedigree in the following terms: 'Eamonn Rua had forgotten to include his father, Eamonn Mór, who died the previous year' ( As noted above, Mr Sweeney once took me to task for not being able to remember the name of my grandfather (after whom I am called), but his case depends on O'Donovan's chief forgetting to include the name of his own father!
        It is worth repeating that the National Library, obviously stung by its entanglement in the Mac Carthy Mór scandal, has now repudiated any inference that Mr Sweeney was in any way confirmed to be Mac Sweeney Doe by the Genealogical Office/Office of the Chief Herald, and on 27 July 2005 Library Director Aongus Ó hAonghusa wrote: 'To the uninitiated this report [by Ms Mac Conghail] could be interpreted as having the imprimatur of the Genealogical Office when of course it does not. . . . . . It is clear from the file that Mr O Donoghue [Chief Herald] granted no recognition to Mr Sweeney'. While the present writer is not in the habit of threatening litigation, the terms 'slander' and 'libel' could certainly be applied to the extraordinary catalogue of personal abuse and false accusations flung in my direction by Mr Sweeney since I challenged his claim to chiefship, for example, that I am a 'self-proclaimed scholar', that my academic qualifications are 'unexceptional', that I only became involved in the Mac Carthy Mór case after the bogus claimant's exposure, that I am an incompetent professional genealogist who plagiarised another's work, that my report on the Mac Sweeney Doe case is 'semi-researched', that I run an unregistered business, and much more in the same vein. The plain fact is that my report on the Mac Sweeney Doe chiefship is the only competent one in the public domain, and I stand over its conclusion, namely, that the claimant has not proven his right to the title, and that claims to chiefship based on inadequate or manipulated documentation are in essence spurious.

Tithe Applotment Book, Parish Gartan, County Donegal, 1833
(National Archives of Ireland, 7/14 microfilm 29)

        In further addenda to his webpage at uploaded in December 2007, Mr Sweeney again declares that I am wrong to consider the settled Edward Sweeney of 'Altinadeague' (officially Attinadague), recorded in the Tithe Applotment Book of 1833 illustrated above, to be his great-great grandfather (and earliest traced ancestor). I note that Mr Sweeney's great-grandfather James was resident in this townland in 1858, spelt 'Attinadague', as per Griffith's Valuation, and that his son Edward was listed as the informant on James's death registration in 1883. Mr Sweeney claims that the Edward Sweeney listed in the tithe record died 'unmarried 1841-51', and was a brother of his great-grandfather James, the two allegedly being sons of O'Donovan's wandering 1835 chief Edmond. I will be happy to amend my account if Mr Sweeney can produce documentary evidence, as opposed to infinitely malleable family tradition or reference to an unseen professional report, proving that Edward Sweeney the tithe payer died unmarried between 1841 and 1851 and was a son of O'Donovan's chief.
        In a report prepared for Mr Sweeney in 1999 by fellow contested chief Randal MacDonnell 'of the Glens', a copy of which I succeeded in securing under the Freedom of Information Act, the following interesting but characterisitically incompletely referenced fragment from the lost 1851 census appears:

Sweeney Census 1851

        In my view the most rational explanation of the information in this abstract is that Edward Sweeney the tithe payer of 1833 is the second head of family listed on the sheet, while the James at the top is most likely his son, as indeed is the final Edward listed as deceased. Mr Sweeney has an altogether more complicated and improbable reading of the data, claiming that the deceased Edward is the tithepayer of 1833, and that his father Edward senior is none other than O'Donovan's 1835 chief, who has in the interim moved from the Sheep Haven area to Attinadague, given up his wandering ways and taken over his son's landholding. What if any documentary evidence exists to suppport these assertions, which of course conveniently allow Mr Sweeney to claim kinship with O'Donovan's chief? Meanwhile, back at his webpage at, Mr Sweeney has taken to counting the days during which allegedly I have not produced proof to back up my challenge to his claim to chiefship, but of course it is clear that it is he and  not I who has failed to furnish properly referenced documentary evidence.

        Mr Sweeney also takes exception to my observation that his professional genealogist does not have a track record in relation to researching claims to chiefship: it is the essence of a 'track record' that it should be public and not hidden, and while my reports are in the public domain, those of his genealogist continue to be withheld, and a substantial publishing record in the specialised area of Irish chiefship is also not in evidence. While there are indications that at least a few Irish professional genealogists are privately concerned over the roles of a past and a serving Chief Herald in giving credence to unverified, bogus or questionable claims to chiefship, there is reluctance to go on the record for fear of employment consequences, or indeed having to endure malevolent and bilious online attacks on their characters and professional abilities. In a further effort to obfuscate, Mr Sweeney now challenges the veracity of my claim to be descended from small farmers in Ballylusky, County Kerry, although my modest pedigree is based on identifiable census, vital and valuation records as opposed to undocumented family yarns about descent from chiefs. I will say again that myself, Mr Sweeney, the hoaxer Terence MacCarthy 'Mór' and most other people of Irish descent have this in common, that we cannot and probably never will be able to document our pedigrees before the early nineteenth or late eighteenth centuries. It remains the case that if my report on the Mac Sweeney Doe chiefship is really the 'semi-researched' and incompetent production which Mr Sweeney claims it is, the easiest thing to do would be to publish the full text of his professional genealogist Ms Mac Conghail's report for purposes of comparison with mine, and Mr Sweeney's persistent refusal to do this cannot be said to indicate complete confidence in the said report's content.
        As of 14 October 2008 Mr Sweeney's webpage at exceeded 35,000 words, most of it bluster and invective, and he retains such brazen falsehoods as that I maintain an unregistered business. Mr Sweeney also publishes a 1923 statement by his father claiming chiefly descent, but such family traditions are very common in Ireland and need not be accepted in the absence of documentary evidence (I point again to my own family tradition of descent from Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne on my mother's side, which I take with a large grain of salt). The following remarkable addition to Mr Sweeney's webpage was also noted:

Mr Long will not thank Mr Sweeney for drawing attention so conspicuously to the validation of his claim to the O Long of Garranelongy chiefship by Terence MacCarthy, the bogus 'Mac Carthy Mór' and fabricator of pedigrees (see my Twilight of the Chiefs: The Mac Carthy Mór Hoax). Nor indeed will Mr Sweeney's professional genealogist be grateful for the claim of legal parity between her work and that of MacCarthy. I always take legal threats seriously, but I doubt if any court would be so perverse as to find someone guilty of defamation for challenging the research of such a notorious hoaxer as Terence MacCarthy. Nor indeed for declining to accept a pedigree so laden with anomalies and patched up with convenient assumptions of chiefly descent as that of Mr Sweeney.

It is now up to you, Mr Sweeney, to publish the full text of Ms Mac Conghail's 2003 report, or effectively admit that your claim to chiefship is based merely on family lore as opposed to acceptable documentary evidence.

Sean J Murphy MA
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
Commenced 6 March 2005, last updated 26 October 2008
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