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End of an era

End of an era

Anton McNulty

THE news of the passing of well-known and popular Achill businessman, Joe ‘The Merchant’ Sweeney, at 95 years of age was described as the ‘end of an era’, as his likes will never be seen again.
The news of Joe Sweeney’s death quickly swept across the island on Monday morning, and was met with great sadness. Known locally as ‘The Merchant’, Joe is survived by his wife Patricia and his six daughters Marian, Bronagh, Orla, Sorcha, Jo-ann and Nessa and five sons Brian, Rory, Cormac, John and Davy.
Joe was at the centre of the business sector in Achill for nearly seven decades after returning from university - where he was studying law - to take over the running of Patrick Sweeney and Sons Grocery and Hardware, in the early 1930s, following the death of his father, Patrick. He continued to build and grow the successful business and always had an entrepreneurial eye.
In the 1940s he established the Atlantic Sea Fishing, which operated out of Purteen Harbour and employed up to 50 people during the season, at a time when emigration was rife on the island. During the peak of its business in the 1940s and 1950s, shark fishing was the major industry in Achill, where the basking shark was hunted for its oil which was exported to provide fine grade lubricant for the aerospace industry. 
Fishing was one of the passions in Joe’s life and he owned a number of boats, as well as serving on the board of Bord Iascaigh Mhara. He also served as a councillor with Mayo County Council, to which he was elected as an Independent. He was also a keen golfer and was one of the founding members of the Keel Golf Links.
He was in good health up until recently and enjoyed walking along the Minaun Cliffs and, while he had retired from the day-to-day running of the business, he always kept a close eye on the proceedings.
During the last number of years he suffered some minor strokes but it never held him back and he kept his brain active, even teaching himself how to use a computer.
Tributes were made following his death, with Achill-based councillor Micheál McNamara saying his death was a tremendous loss to the parish.
“He was a person always relied on for advice and he kept a close brief on all things going on in the area. I would like to extend my sympathy to his wife and his family on their tragic loss. He is a man we will never see the likes of again because he truly was unique.”