Fr. Sweeney was born in Dookinella, Achill (where the monument stands today) and reared at the home of his grandmother at Rossmore, Newport. He was ordained in the Irish College, Paris about 1787. He returned to Newport as a curate in 1798 and became actively involved in the political life of the area.
In 1798 Fr. Manus welcomed and acted as interpreter for the French Captain, Boudet, who came to Newport after The Races of Castlebar. A week later, Fr. Manus was captured by Sir Neal O Donnell of Newport, but released after representation by Minister Herne.
After the capture of Killala, by General Trench, Fr. Manus had to go 'on the run.' He spent seven weeks in hiding at Glenlara, 6 miles northeast of Newport and spent a further six weeks at Camploon near Newport where he hid out in a shelter beneath a stack of turf during the day and took some exercise by night to keep fit. He was accompanied by Neal O Donnell and his brother in law James Toolis to Glenamadoo. He travelled through Mulranny on his own against the advice of O Donnell who wanted him to go to Ballycroy.
He made his way to Bealafarsad where Tomas Ban Cattigan gave him shelter and he remained a fugitive until he was captured in Achill, in May 1799. In June he was hanged on the evidence of O Donnell of and Reverend Michael Conway of Ballina. Following his trial in Castlebar Fr. Manus was transported on his own cart to Newport via the Carrickaneady Road, which then was the old Castlebar/ Newport Road. He was hanged publicly on the Market Crane in Newport and his remains are buried within the walls of Burrishoole Abbey.
The inscription on the gravestone of Fr. Manus reads:
Brigit Sweeney Alias Mulloy his wife deceased June 9th 1786. Aged 63years.
Fr. Manus Sweeny, their son who died June 8th 1799. Aged 36years.
He is fondly remembered in a ballad in the North Mayo Gaeltacht by the following words:
Ta a cholainn sa talamh is a anam i bhflaitheas.
(His body is in the earth, but his soul is in paradise).
A handsome monument was placed over his grave in 1922 and the inscription on the memorial reads:
Do tógadh an chros seo le muintir Pharóiste Bhuirghéis ' Umhaill
I gcuimhne an t-Athair Maghnus Mac Suibhne
Sagart naomhtha tíor- ghrádach
A chrochadh I mBaile Uí bhFiacháin
Meitheamh 8 adh, 1799
Fá chómh- oibriughadh
Le na chóimh- thiorachaibh
I gCeannairc 1798.
Beidh a ainm fá mheasc ó chineadh go cineadh.
I siothchain go suaimhnighidh sé.
Daonnach críonnacht crábhadh
Caoineas fáilte fairsinge
Umhlacht úire uaisle.
Tá mo nuar fán bhfeart so.
Article by Brian Hoban