Fr. Sweeney Dookinella monument.

80th anniversary of unveiling of statue to patriot Mayo priest

By Mary J. Murphy

AS World War II raged hundreds of miles away from Achill Island in the 1940s, a group of local people, which included Fr. Godfrey, Eva O’Flaherty, Anita MacMahon and post master John Barrett, came together to plan a commemoration of the 180th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Dookinella-born patriot-priest, Fr. Manus Sweeney.

Their dreams were realised exactly 80 years ago when, after three years of cooperation by many locals, Archbishop Joseph Walsh of Tuam unveiled a 15’ high monolith of Curraun red granite in August 1944.

Fr. Sweeney Dookinella monument.

Built at the site of Manus Sweeney’s home at the foot of the Minnaun cliffs, it honoured the priest who was hanged by English soldiers in Newport in 1798.

Islanders who were involved in one capacity or another included Miss Sal Malone NT, Dookinella; Mrs. Weddall of Keel Sandybanks; John Kilbane, Achill Sound; Pat Corrigan of Dookinella; John McNulty, Dooega; Tom McHugh, Bunacurry; Pat Vesey and Patrick Mulloy of Keel, Anthony Lavelle, and Sargeant Browne.

The committee chose wisely by delegating Eva O’Flaherty of St. Colman’s Knitting Industries to find an artist for the job, and she recommended subsequently a young up and coming Dublin sculptor by the name of Peter Grant. It was his first public commission, and he stayed with O’Flaherty in Dooagh whilst working on the project.

Grant apparently based his ‘mask’ of Sweeney’s face on drawings that Caherlistrane-born Eva had lent to him, drawings by none other than the famous artist Sean Keating. Father of politician Justin Keating (who, as it happens, along with Nell McCafferty, signed my NUJ application form in Dublin’s Liberty Hall many moons ago), Sean painted on the island in his time, and according to Dublin historian John Turpin, his famous ‘Men of the West’ was indeed Grant’s inspiration for Fr. Sweeney’s visage.

* Mary J. Murphy will be launching her third Achill-themed book, ‘Achill Remembers Marie Howet’, in Keel Hall on Sunday, August 4, at 7 p.m., as part of a celebration to mark the 40th anniversary of the famous Belgian Impression’s death. Howet first visited Dooagh on August 4, 1929, and returned on numerous occasions over five decades, staying with her life-long island friends, the Burkes of Dooagh.