Civilian Mathew Sweetnam

Civilian Mathew Sweetnam (aged about 65) of Lissanoohig near Skibbereen (Lissanoohig)

Date of incident: 19 Feb. 1921 (killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: II, 19 Oct. 1920; CE, 21 Feb., 16 May 1921; FJ, 21 Feb. 1921; CWN, 26 Feb., 21 May 1921; CCE, 26 Feb. 1921; Iris Oifigiúil, 8 Jan. 1924 (Supplement);

Military Inquests, WO 35/159A/49 (TNA); RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork West Riding, Feb. 1921 (CO 904/114, TNA); ‘IRA Intelligence Reports on Civilians Accused of Giving Information to and Associating with British Forces during War of Independence in Counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and Limerick’, ca. 1921, CP/4/40 (Military Archives); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); ‘Lest We Forget’ (PRONI, D. 989/c/1/51); Patrick O’Sullivan’s WS 1481, 8 (BMH); William Crowley’s WS 1502, 9 (BMH); Fitzgerald (2012), 187-91.


Note: A well-known and extensive Protestant farmer, Sweetnam long resisted the payment of the levy for the West Cork Brigade Arms Fund. As early as October 1920 the Irish Independent reported that he had been ‘removed to an unknown destination by Sinn Feiners. It is said he resisted the levying of an Arbitration Court fine and wounded one of the Volunteer police.’ By early February 1921 the headquarters of the West Cork Brigade had issued orders for the execution of Sweetnam and another resisting Protestant farmer named William Connell; their alleged offence was that they ‘had informed the British of the names of the men who had called on them to collect the Arms Fund levy’. See Patrick O’Sullivan’s WS 1481, 8 (BMH). An RIC report for February 1921 took note of the ‘murder of M. Sweetnam and W. Connell, two Protestant farmers, by rebels [on] 19/2/21 for having given evidence at a court martial’. Rather than having furnished information on a regular basis to the police or the military, Sweetnam and Connell appear to have been killed for what the IRA deemed a serious but singular offence that came on top of their general defiance of attempts by the IRA to impose its authority in that area. See RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork West Riding, Feb. 1921 (CO 904/114, TNA).

IRA veterans recalled decades later details of these killings and the British reprisals that followed. On the night of 19 February Sweetnam was taken from his house by six armed men, who shot him about 50 yards away. He ran back to his house and collapsed in the kitchen, where he was again followed by one of the armed men, who shot him in the neck. He expired with five bullet wounds in various parts of his body. The execution was carried out ‘by selected members of the Lisheen Company’ of the Schull Battalion of the West Cork Brigade. See William Crowley’s WS 1502, 9 (BMH). Sweetnam’s two farms and livestock were later seized by the IRA. On 14 May 1921 a large party of IRA men visited Sweetnam’s farms and removed all the livestock from both of them. See CE, 16 May 1921. In a set of reprisals for the executions of Connell and Sweetnam, British forces burned the houses of the father of Patrick O’Sullivan (quartermaster, Skibbereen Battalion), Cornelius Connolly (O/C, Skibbereen Battalion), and John McCarthy of Mohanna, all active Volunteers. See Patrick O’Sullivan’s WS 1481, 8 (BMH).

The Lissanoohig farmer Mathew Sweetnam and his wife Maria were the parents of four living children (six born) in 1911. Two of those children were then co-resident with their parents. The Sweetnams were adherents of the Church of Ireland. Mathew Sweetnam had three Catholic tenants with houses on his land at Lissanoohig in 1911. The name of Mathew Sweetnam appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 19 February 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that £5,000 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA). But another source indicates that Maria Elizabeth Sweetnam was awarded £1,000 and costs by the Irish government in late June 1921. See Iris Oifigiúil, 8 Jan. 1924 (Supplement).

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,