Rooney Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Rooney Meaning
Rooney is an Irish Ulster name from more than one Gaelic root.
The main root O’Ruanaidh,
meaning “the descendant of the champion”, is to be found in county
Down, as is the alternate O’Runaidhin.
This Rooney name later spread into north Leitrim and Donegal.
Then there were the Rooneys of county Fermanagh, from the Gaelic O’Maolruanaigh which was anglicized
to Mulrooney and Macarooney and later to Rooney. The village of
Roslea in Fermanagh was named by the English from slat-mul-rony or territory of the

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Rooney Ancestry

Ireland. The O’Rooneys were a county Down sept based in
the modern parish of Ballyroney. Their
name appeared frequently in the ecclesiastical annals of Dromore.
However, these Rooneys are chiefly remembered as poets – starting
with Ceallach O’Rooney, recorded as the chief poet of Ireland in 1079,
and going through Eoin O’Rooney in the 14th century to William Rooney
in the late 19th century.

There are still many Rooneys today in
county Down, including the young Rooney Family which performs
traditional Irish music around the country.

There was another pocket of Rooneys at Roslea
in Fermanagh near the Monaghan border, in Clones parish. Hugh Rooney was
apprenticed as a cooper there at the time of the 1798 uprising. His descendant Hugh, born in 1880 and known
as Master Hugh, wrote his memoirs of
the area in 1970.

By that time, because
of emigration, the Rooney numbers there were much fewer than they had
been in the past. At the time of the famine, one
Rooney family had
departed Roslea for Prince Edward Island in Canada in 1847. Many more crossed the Atlantic in the late
1800’s and early 1900’s.

England. The 19th century
saw a major Irish migration across the Irish Sea to England where there
was work in the new industrial cities. Lancashire took the
greatest share of Rooneys. Patrick and Julia Rooney, for
instance, came to Liverpool with their children in 1835. These
Rooneys generally encountered harsh working conditions and anti-Catholic
, but built their families.

Wayne Rooney the
footballer, whose grandfather was born in Bootle, is the most
well-known Rooney in England today.

. There were early sightings
of Rooneys in America in Virginia. A
Rooney was said to have been among those massacred by Indians at Fort
in 1758. Another Rooney, Alexander, died
in an Indian raid in 1781 near his home at Leading Creek in Randolph

Rooney distribution in America today reflects the later Irish
immigration into New
York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Although their numbers are
less than those in England, their success rate has perhaps been
higher. Art
and Dan Rooney
who have run the Steeler football franchise are
Pittsburgh’s best-known citizens; while Frank Rooney
who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania made a lot of money
through the various businesses that he developed.

Patrick Rooney had
initially intended to come to New York from Ireland in 1835. However, after a treacherous voyage, he ended up in Quebec. He and his brother Michael initially made
their home in the Gatineau valley. Many
of the Rooney families there then migrated south to Minnesota in the


Select Rooney Miscellany

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 tradition 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,

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 marvelously 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, accordion, fiddle, and
bodhran.  The highlight of their surprisingly long set was the
bodharib duet featuring the eldest and the youngest of the

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

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,
escape death by starvation, boarded a sailboat bound for New York
they had reached mid-ocean the old wooden vessel sprang a leak and all
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
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
sank in
about 15 minutes. After the ship was underway someone inquired as to
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

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.”


Select Rooney

  • Ceallach O’ Rooney was recorded as the chief poet of Ireland in 1079. 
  • William Rooney was a noted Irish poet involved in
    the revival of the Gaelic language in the late 19th 
  • Art Rooney, the son of Irish immigrants, founded the Pittsburgh Steelers football franchise in the 1930’s. In his 41st season as
    owner, the club won the Super Bowl. 
  • Mickey Rooney, born Joseph Yule in Brooklyn in 1920, has been an American
    movie actor and entertainer since the 1940’s. 
  • Andy Rooney is a writer and humorist on American TV. 
  • Wayne Rooney from Liverpool has played football for both Manchester United and the England national team and has been a record goal scorer for both.

Select Rooney Numbers Today

  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous
    in New York).
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)




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