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I am searching the baptisms from 1773-1795 in the church records of Clonleigh that are published by the National Library of Ireland. (film 05766/02), I'm finding McSwine and Sweney, Sweeney, etc. I understand that McSwine is a variation of Sweeney and I'm wondering if James McSwine and James Sweny could be the same person. Does the spelling depend on the priest? Does each family have their own tradition? I'd appreciate any guidance on this puzzle. Clonleigh Parish includes Counties Donegal and Tyrone. No Townlands are given in the records so far but my family is from Strabane.

Thank you, Norma Reynolds


Norma Crowley Reynolds

Sunday 11th Sep 2022, 02:11AM

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  • Norma,

    The idea of a single or correct spelling for a surname or a place name in Ireland is very much a recent phenomenon designed to meet the needs of modern officialdom. Before that there was no consistency. Names were spelled phonetically and each variation was down to the whim of the particular person recording the information. You will often see the spelling change as the records go back. This rarely indicates a deliberate decision to alter the name, nor even a mistake. Not everyone was literate, but even when they were, exact and consistent spelling simply wasn’t something they bothered about. In addition to varying the actual spelling, O’ or Mac prefixes were optional and were often omitted.

    In 1899, the Rev Smith reviewed the early records of Antrim 1st Presbyterian church (covering the years 1674 to c 1736). He noted: “Even the same word is not always spelled alike by the same hand. Indeed spelling with most of the recording officials (and they must have been fairly numerous) was a matter of the most sublime indifference. The name William, for instance, is spelled 3 different ways in as many lines; while Donegore, a neighbouring parish, is spelled 10 different ways; but these extend over a good number of years. Many families names are spelled phonetically, while others are given in the most round-about fashion.”

    So expect spelling to vary. That was the norm.

    So yes James McSwine & James Sweny could be the same person. You will need to use other sources, including precisely where they lived and their occupations to try and decide. Or perhaps DNA might assist.

    MacLysaghts “The Surnames of Ireland” says of (Mac) Sweeney & Swiney: “ Mac Suibhne (the word suibhne denotes pleasant, the opposite of duibhne). Of galloglass origin it was not until the fourteenth century that the three great Tirconnell septs of MacSweeny were established; more than a century later a branch went to Munster. Bibl IF Donegal, Cork & Kerry.”

    Galloglass were mercenaries, usually from the Western Isles of Scotland, who were brought to Ireland during the 1300s to 1500s, to assist local chieftains in their wars with each other, and occasionally the English. In return for their fighting skills they were usually given land by the local chieftain. Many galloglass families are found in Co. Donegal.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Sunday 11th Sep 2022, 02:36PM
  • Thank you, Elwin. This is a great help! 


    Norma Crowley Reynolds

    Sunday 11th Sep 2022, 06:32PM

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