Swiney (Swiny, Swinny, MacSwinny), Owen Mac (1680–1754), playwright and theatre manager, was born near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. He appears to have joined the army as a young man but by spring 1703 was in London as associate of Christopher Rich at the Drury Lane theatre, where he helped manage the company and soon produced for them a play, ‘The quacks’, which opened on 29 March 1705. It was based on Moliere's ‘L'Amour médecin’ and was censured and its opening delayed by a week by the lord chamberlain because it contained an attack on the leading London political and literary club, the Kit-Cat Club, which included among its members Sir Robert Walpole, William Congreve (qv), and Joseph Addison (qv). The following day Swiney's translation of the libretto of ‘Camilla’ was played to considerable success. The critic John Genest (1764–1839) calls it contemptible, but it remained popular for twenty-five years. Swiney was at this period described by Colley Cibber as having ‘an habitual intimacy, a cheerful humour, and an indefatigable zeal for his interest’ (Highfall, Burnim, & Langhans, 348).
His position in Drury Lane did not meet his ambitions, so in August 1706 he undertook the management of the Haymarket at the behest of its owner, Sir John Vanburgh. His company opened the 1706–7 season with ‘The Spanish fryar’ and continued in zealous competition with Drury Lane until the end of 1707, when the lord chamberlain, favouring Rich, ordered that the Haymarket be used for opera only and Drury Lane for drama. As manager of the opera, Swiney put on his third and last work, a translation of the libretto of ‘Pyrrhus and Demetrius’, which opened on 14 December 1709. He engaged notable singers throughout the season and by 1710, with Rich's influence in decline, was again able to offer both plays and operas. On 6 November 1710, together with Cibber and two others, he received a license to perform at Drury Lane which put them, as actor-managers, in firm control and enabled them to establish the administration that gave Drury Lane a stable troupe for two decades. However, the three other managers apparently profited beyond the terms of their contract and at the expense of Swiney; he accordingly sued them on 12 January 1711 and a settlement was reached out of court on 19 May. His income was fixed at £600 annually, which did not satisfy him, so he decided to return to the Haymarket, now under William Collier and once again reserved for opera. Finding the opera in a financially precarious position, he was bankrupt by the end of the 1711–12 season and fled abroad about 15 January 1713, leaving the singers unpaid.
After travelling in France, he settled in Italy, where he lived with the consul Joseph Smith from 1720. He worked as an artist's agent, commissioning a number of portraits for Monuments to the remembrance of a set of British worthies, and as agent and recruiter of opera singers. He served as the Royal Academy of Music's agent and reported for the academy on Italian operas and librettos. By 26 February 1735 he was back in London for a benefit at Drury Lane, to perform in which Cibber came out of retirement. He had another benefit at Covent Garden on 1 April 1736, which brought him £30. At some point he was appointed examiner of office securities in the custom house and storekeeper at the king's mews. These posts must have brought him a reasonable income because he was able to enjoy himself in spas with Cibber and to fall in love with Peg Woffington (qv). He spent time in France with her, revived ‘The quacks’ for her benefit on 30 March 1745, championed her in a scuffle in the green room at Drury Lane in 1754, when he was aged at least 74, and left his estate to her, apparently on condition that she convert from catholicism to protestantism, which she did. He died on 2 October 1754 and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields. His will was left in trust to the duke of Dorset (qv), lord lieutenant of Ireland, and was proved on 7 October 1754. His housekeeper and her daughter got £20. The rest went to Woffington.
A drawing by Grisoni in 1716 is in the Huntington library. The National Portrait Gallery has a copy of another portrait by Peter Van Bleek (1747).