This is a medieval Gaelic surname. Much associated with Ireland it did however originate from Scotland as "Mac Suibhne". This was composed of the elements "mac" meaning son of, and "Suibhne" a personal byname meaning pleasant. Suibhene was lord of Knapdale in Strathclyde in circa 1200, and later this family emigrated to Ireland and established three MacSweeney septs in County Donegal in the 14th century. Amongst the early nameholders as shown below was Murrough MacSweeny, who served the king of France, and was one of the galloglasses for which Ireland was famous. This word literally means "foreign young warrior", and denotes a mercenary soldier, one who served a country, not his own. Early examples of the recordings taken from surviving church registers include Anne, the daughter of James Sweeney, who was christened at Downpatrick, Co. Down, on May 7th 1795, whilst on February 4th 1837, Brian Sweeney married Catherine Sullivan at Castleisland Roman Catholic Church, Co. Kerry. On June 25th 1847, Jeremiah Sweeny, a famine emigrant aged 23 years, embarked from Cork City on the ship "Henry Hobbs" bound for New York. A coat of arms granted to the family has the blazon of a gold shield charged with a silver lizard on a green fess, between three black boars passant. The crest is an arm in armour holding a battle-axe, proper. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Murrough MacSweeny. This was dated 1267, in the "Annals of Connacht". Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop," often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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