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Sweetman (Irish: Suatman or Swetman) is an Irish surname derived from the Old English bynames of Swet, Sweta and Swete which are derived from the word 'Swete' (meaning 'popular') and survived into the medieval period, being later Gaelicised to 'Suatman'.

The first Sweetmans in Ireland became known as Old English, English settlers who moved to Ireland following the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. They lived in the south-east counties of Wexford and Kilkenny.

Early documented history[edit]

The Sweetmans or Swetmans succeeded the D'Erleys in their property of Earlstown, and title Baron of Erley, probably towards the close of the 14th century, when the family first began to take a prominent place in local affairs. Milo Sweetman was treasurer of the Diocese of Ossory in 1360, in which year he was elected Bishop of Ossory by the Chapter. His election was cancelled by the Pope, who, however, in the following year appointed him Archbishop of Armagh Having governed the Primatial See for nineteen years he died in 1380, and is buried in Dromiskin, County Louth.[1]

John Sweetman was appointed Keeper of the Peace for Co.Kilkenny, in 1382; he was Sheriff of the same county 13 November 1390. In 1405, Nicholas Sweetman was appointed Keeper of the Peace for County Kilkenny. In 1478, John Sweetman was chief lord of all the Barony of Erley (source: Register of Kells Priory). He is, no doubt, identical with the "John Sweetman, son and heir of Nicholas Sweetman of Castellyse (i.e. Castellyfe, or Castle Eve) in the Co. Kilkenny, gent.," who received a royal pardon for treasons &c., 23 October 1482 (source: Patent Rolls).

William Swetman, Baron of Erley, died, as his monument in Newtown Church testifies, in 1507.

James Swetman was presented, with the other gentry of Co. Kilkenny, in 1537, for charging coyne and livery. He was High Sheriff of County Kilkenny in 1543. He was still living in March, 1549, when we find James Sweteman, of Castelliff, and William Swetman, of Tullahaght, County Kilkenny, gents., receiving pardons.

William Sweetman, next Baron of Erley, was the largest freeholder in the Barony of Kells, County Kilkenny, about 1560, his estate being then valued at 74 pounds. He was Sheriff of County Kilkenny, in 1564, and was pardoned in 1567, after which he appears no more.

John Sweetman, his [son ? and] successor, who set up the slab with the family escutcheon, in Castle Eve castle, in 1580, was arrested for complicity in the rebellion of James FitzMaurice FitzGerald, in 1583, but was soon after liberated. He was more fortunate than his brother George Swetman, who, being arraigned on the same charge, was found guilty and put to death. As "Sweeteman living in Castlelyf," John Swetman is reckoned among the chief nobility of Co. Kilkenny, in 1596. He erected his monument in Newtown church in 1600, and died May 28, 1605. By Inquisition of April 5, 1638, he was found to have been seised, in his lifetime, of the manor of Erley otherwise Earlestown, with the appurtenances, and of the towns and lands of Castleleife, Rathculbin and Spruce's Haies, parcel of the said manor, and of Foulke's town in the aforesaid county [of Kilkenny]; and he was further found to have died on the third of May 1605, at which date his grand-nephew [recte grandson] and heir, William Sweetman was but 10 years old (source: Inquis. Lageniae).

William Sweetman, just mentioned, was the next Baron of Erley. He became of age in January 1615-16, at which date, as son and heir of James Sweetman, son and heir of John Sweetman, he had Pardon of Intrusion and Alienation "as to the manor of Early otherwise Earliston, the towns and lands of Castleiff, Rathcu[l]bin otherwise Rathcu[l]bbin, Spruce's Haies otherwise Garranspure, Tullaghmaine otherwise Tulleame and Killtullaghmaen, Fowkestowne, Hodesgrove otherwise Garranhody, together with a chief rent out of Owentown (Ovenstown), all the Kilkenny Co., for a fine of 10 pounds Irish."

He took part with his countrymen in the War of Confederate Ireland for which he forfeited under Oliver Cromwell in 1653, and was transplanted to Connacht in 1654. The time and place of his death are unknown. By his wife, Joan, daughter of Thomas Walsh of Piltown, County Waterford, son of Sir Nicholas Walsh, he had five sons, viz., John, Edward, Piers, ffrancis, and Nicholas.

John, the eldest son, is presumably the John Sweetman who forfeited Rathculbin under Cromwell, and was transplanted to Connacht in 1654. He must have returned from Connacht at the Restoration of Charles II, as his will, now in the Record Office, Dublin, is dated from Castle Ife, in 1672. Probate of the will was taken out, April 17, 1690, by Beale Archer al' Sweetman, testator's widow, and by Mary Conway al' Sweetman, his only child and heir.

Mary Sweetman's husband, "Hugh Conway of Castleiffe, gent.," by his will made May 10, 1690, bequeaths all his real estate, as well what he has now as what may descend to him hereafter, to Patrick Conway, his eldest son and heir and his lawful heirs; remainder to his third son Silvester Conway, and his lawful heirs; he bequeaths his wife Mary Sweetman one-third of all he possesses, and appoints he and his eldest son, Patrick Conway, his executors; overseers, his cousins, Captain Henry Archer of the city of Kilkenny, and John Shee, gent., of the city of Dublin; he mentions his mortgages on lands in Meath, Kildare, &c. This will was proved, 18 November 1702, by the testator's eldest son and heir, Patrick Conway of Magestown (Maxtown), Co. Kilkenny, saving the right of testator's relict, Mary Comerford al' Conway al' Sweetman.

The Sweetmans held on in the neighbourhood of their old Castles till about 1845, when the last of them emigrated. They are said to have been men of large stature and great bodily strength.

Most Rev. Dr Nicholas Sweetman, Bishop of Ferns, inherited some of the family characteristics, as he is described as possessing an "iron frame and great powers of body." He was appointed Bishop of Ferns, by Papal Brief of 25 January 1745. His death, which occurred in October 1786, is recorded in Finn's Leinster Journal of Wednesday, 1 November 1786:

"Died on the 21st (recte 19th) inst, in Wexford, Dr. Nicholas Sweetman, aged 90 years. He had been titular Bishop of Ferns 42 years. He was born in the county Kilkenny, of the family of the Sweetman's of Castle Eve, near Callan, County Kilkenny, Barons of Erley for ages until the year 1653. His father had lost a small estate in the aforesaid county by the late revolution, and his grandfather a very large one by Cromwell's sanguinary proscriptions," &c.

John Sweetman, Esq., Drumbaragh, Kells, Co. Meath, is the best known and most respected of the Sweetman family in this country at the present time (circa 1905). His parents were John Sweetman and Honoria, only child of Malachy O'Connor of Dublin; his grandparents were Michael Sweetman and Alicia Taaffe; his great-grandparents were Patrick Sweetman and E. Thunder; his 2nd great-grandparents were John Sweetman and a daughter of Patrick Sweetman of St. Stephen's Green Brewery, whose will was proved in 1771; and his 3rd great-grandparents were John Sweetman, Esq. of Ashton Quay Brewery, Dublin (will proved 1757) and Margaret Dodd (will proved 1767).

It is probable that the John Sweetman who appears last in this pedigree was descended from William Sweetman, the forfeiting proprietor of Castle Eve, in Cromwell's time. "I heard from Mr. Laurence Sweetman, of the County Wexford, that two sons of this William Sweetman, viz. Francis and Nicholas, settled in County Wexford, and that two other sons settled in Dublin." (as quoted to Rev. Carrigan)

Sweetman is pronounced Swuthamonn (all syllables short, accent on the first syllable) by those who still speak Irish in the neighborhood of Castle Eve.

Brewers in Dublin[edit]

A branch of the Sweetmans became involved in brewing and politics. Their Dublin brewery was on the site of today's Iveagh Market in Francis Street, and was bought and closed c1890 by Edward Guinness. The Sweetmans used part of the proceeds to fund the political careers of John Sweetman, Roger Sweetman, Edmund Sweetman and Gerard Sweetman, who served as Irish Minister for Finance in 1954-57. The National Library of Ireland holds the Sweetman Family Papers on this branch of the family.[2]


A great number of Irish families were displaced due to the Penal Laws and the Great Irish Famine. The Sweetman family were no exception. Under Cromwell many of them were sent to Connacht and Dublin.[clarification needed] Others emigrated to the USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Britain. Early passenger and immigration lists reveal many Irish settlers bearing the name Sweetman.


The following list of people with the surname Sweetman: