Select Rooney Miscellany

Here are some Rooney stories and accounts over the years:

The Rooneys As Poets

Being a poet, although prestigious, was not easy and each chieftain probably only had one among his retinue.  Therefore the Rooney poets had to travel afar in search of a sponsor.  Though their origins are firmly in Ulster, the name is found extensively in other parts of Ireland and is as common in Leinster and Connacht as it is in their native territory.

In the 19th century the poetic tradion was carried on by John Jerome Rooney, the Irish-American jurist and verse writer, and by William Rooney.  William was born in Dublin and educated by the Christian brothers.  He became a journalist, language revivalist, and poet.  His poems include The Men of the West, Ninety Eight, and An tSean Bhean Bocht.

Even today the poetic urge emerges regularly among the Rooneys.  For example William Rooney of Milltown, New Jersey is in the International Poetry Hall of Fame, as in Eugene Rooney of New Market, Maryland.

The Francie Rooneys in County Fermanagh (Roslea)

The Francie Rooneys had Hugh Rooney who was married to Catherine McMahon.  The children were Joe (married to Mary Connolly), Mary, Hugh, John, Margaret, James, Patrick, and Gerard.  Joe was a postman in Roslea.  Hugh sr. was a keen huntsman and cardplayer and was also the caretaker at Derrygannon Hall.

The hall was built in 1912, originally of corrugated iron with a concrete floor.  People wore clogs and had ceilies in the hall.  Tommy Flynn of Derryvolan used to play the fiddle.  They also played cards during the winter months.

A hill of Frank Rooney's was used to have a bonfire.  The first man to work a gramophone in the hall had only one record.  It played "Chick, chick, chicken, lay a little egg for me."  The whole country for miles around went to hear it and dance around the bonfire.  They also played football in Derrygannon.  Hugh Rooney kept goal and John Rooney was a good footballer.  People from the Free State also played on the team.  Master Rooney also played and he was as well fond of shooting.   

Skiittles were played on the road near the hall before a dance and many would go and practice on week evenings.  Sometimes they played for  money, a few pence.  100 points was a game.  If you scored over the 100 with the final shot you went back to 50.  You had to finish on the even 100.  There were three middle skittles, one in front of the other numbering 10, 15, and 20 with the two side ones on each side numbering 5 each.  You had three shots each turn. 

Most people in Packies' younger days had a pony and trap to go to mass and he bought a pony with the first money he earned. 

The Rooney Family

The message from this Celtic Connections double bill was that traditional and tradition-based contemporary music was in good hands.  The first half gave us the marvellously talented siblings of the Rooney Family from Co. Down.  The four sisters and two brothers, aged from 12 to 20, presented an energetic mix of traditional and contemporary music with a couple of songs along the way.

The sequence of Irish and Scots jigs gave the Rooneys a chance to display their skill on flute, whistle, guitar, accordian, fiddle, and bodhran.  The highlight of their surprisingly long set was the bodharib duet featuring the eldest and the youngest of the family. 

A Rooney Family Meets Prejudice in NE England

A Rooney family - husband, wife, and five children - had left Ireland for England in 1839.  The 1841 census found them in Sunderland.  All the children were at work then, John and James at the iron works, Patrick a laborer, Mary a confectioner, and Bridget a dressmaker's apprentice.

In 1856, according to the family account, Patrick had gotten a local girl, Elizabeth Thompson, to use an old-fashioned expression, in trouble.  Whether it was Patrick himself who was unwilling to marry or whether Elizabeth's family were opposed is unknown; but things were left to the last moment.   The circumstantial evidence suggests that the bride and groom took matters into their own hands and married in the face of strong parental disapproval.  Some sort of reconciliation seems to have taken place after the wedding as Elizabeth was able to return to Newbottle for the birth of the child which occurred only 24 days later.

It is not hard to imagine why there might have been opposition to their union.  As a future son-in-law Patrick must have appeared to Michael Thompson as a less than ideal prospect.  He was a general laborer, illiterate, Irish, and a Catholic to boot.  In contrast, Elizabeth was Protestant, the daughter of a tradesman, and to judge by her signature in the marriage book she had received a good education.

Rooney was written as Roney by the Registrar's clerk.   The spelling in the civil records regularly switched from one version to the other between 1859 and 1881.  After 1881 the Roney version disappeared, but Patrick continued to call himself George for the rest of his life.  He did so perhaps because he found anti-Catholic sentiment so strong in Sunderland at that time that he decided a good solid English name was the only route to getting on in life.

Patrick and Elizabeth raised a family and eventually prospered.  In 1881 Patrick achieved an ambition which must have seemed like an impossible dream when he first arrived in England - he became the tenant of a farm.  How he scraped together the wherewithal to take up the lease of Lake House farmhouse is unknown. But he did.

The Rooneys' Treacherous Voyage to America

In 1937 John Egan, grandson of immigrant Patrick Rooney, gave the following account of the Rooney’s journey and arrival in America:

"About the year 1845 there was a great famine in Ireland and the tribe or family of Rooney, to escape death by starvation, boarded a sailboat bound for New York City.  When they had reached mid-ocean the old wooden vessel sprang a leak and all hands were forced to man the pumps in order to keep it afloat.

After a time, when all hope of ever seeing land again was gone, the captain sighted another vessel and hailed it.  When the vessel came alongside the captain explained his situation and asked if his passengers could be transferred from the sinking vessel.  The captain agree to do so and the transfer was made.  The ill-fated vessel sank in about 15 minutes. After the ship was underway someone inquired as to their destination and the captain answered, "Quebec."

The Rooneys had no voice in the matter and were put ashore at Quebec, after nearly 50 days on the water."

It would appear that John Egan had got his dates wrong.  It was probably 1835 instead of 1845 as the Rooneys were in Canada by 1842.

Art and Dan Rooney

Two places have endeared themselves to Dan Rooney for reasons of fate and fortune.   Newry in county Down was the town his grandfather - also named Dan Rooney - left to make his way in the 1880's in a decade during which home rule, land reform and political unrest characterized daily life in the busy Ulster market town.

Rooney ended up in Pittsburgh, an industrial hellhole in the 19th century.  Along with thousands of immigrants - Irish, Poles, Germans, and Slavs - the family worked in the steel mills and coal mines.  By the turn of the century they had opened Dan Rooney's Saloon in the North Side where Art Rooney was born on the second floor of the building in 1901.

Over the 20th century, Pittsburgh's fortune and outlook seemed to rise and fall with the success of its football Steelers which the family had owned since Art Rooney bought the franchise in 1933 for $2,500.  After a slow start which lasted over three decades, the Steelers finally came to dominate professional football with a vengeance in the 1970's.

This was the tribute of Raymond Flynn, the former mayor of Boston and a longtime friend of the family:

"Dan Rooney makes you proud to be an Irish-American.  He's never changed, no matter how successful he's become.  He is always the same, down-to-earth just like his father Art who was a beautiful man. The Rooneys can walk among kings and popes and never lose the common touch." 

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