Sweetman, John (DNB00)

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SWEETMAN, JOHN (1752–1826), United Irishman, was born of Roman catholic parents in Dublin in 1752. The family had for more than a century conducted in that city an extensive brewery, to which Sweetman succeeded on the death of his father. He became identified with the movement for the removal of the civil and religious disabilities of the catholics, and was one of the chief supporters of the vigorous policy initiated by John Keogh (1740–1817) [q. v.] in 1791, which led to the secession of most of the catholic gentry. He was also a delegate at the catholic convention which assembled in Dublin on 3 Dec. 1792. In the same year a secret committee of the House of Lords accused certain ‘ill-disposed members’ of the Roman catholic church of contributing money in support of the ‘defenders,’ a secret agrarian society. They founded this assertion upon the discovery of a letter by Sweetman, enclosing money to defend a peasant accused of ‘defenderism.’ Sweetman immediately published ‘A Refutation,’ in which he denied the accusation, and stated that he had offered assistance because he believed the man to be innocent. He described himself as ‘Secretary to the sub-committee of the Catholics of Ireland.’

Sweetman was an active United Irishman. He was a member of the Leinster directory of the revolutionary organisation, and some of the most important meetings of its executive committee took place at his brewery in Francis Street, Dublin. He was arrested with other leaders of the movement on 12 March 1798. Seeing that all hope of a successful insurrection was over, they entered into a compact with the government, by which, in consideration of a promise of the suspension of the executions of United Irishmen, they made a full disclosure of their objects and plans, without implicating individuals, before committees of the lords and commons. Sweetman was one of the group sent to Fort George in Scotland early in 1799. In June 1802 they were deported to Holland and set at liberty. After eighteen years of exile Sweetman was permitted to return to Ireland in 1820. He died in May 1826, and was buried at Swords, outside Dublin. He married, in 1784, Mary Atkinson, the daughter of a Dublin brewer.

Sweetman was one of the few catholics of position who belonged to the organisation of United Irishmen as a revolutionary conspiracy. Of the twenty leaders consigned to Fort George, ten were episcopalians, six were presbyterians, and only four (including Sweetman) were catholics. Wolfe Tone, writing in his journal in France under date 1 March 1798, on hearing a rumour of Sweetman's death, said: ‘If ever an exertion was to be made for our emancipation, he would have been in the very foremost rank. I had counted upon his military talents.’

[Madden's United Irishmen; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; MacNevin's Pieces of Irish History; Wolfe Tone's Autobiography.]

M. MacD.