William Rooney

Rooney in the 1890s

William Rooney (Irish: Liam Ó Ruanaidh; 29 September 1873–6 May 1901), also known as Fear na Muintire, was an Irish nationalist, journalist, poet and Gaelic revivalist. Along with Arthur Griffith and Denis Devereux he founded the Celtic Literary Society, and with Griffith founded the first Cumann na nGaedheal.


William Rooney was born in Mabbot Street in Dublin, Ireland and educated by the Christian Brothers in Strand Street and North Richmond Street. As a boy he was a member of The Irish Fireside Club, a literary discussion group, where he became acquainted with Arthur Griffith around 1888. They joined the Leinster Debating Society (which became the Leinster Literary Society), where Griffith became president and Griffith secretary. After the Leinster Literary Society was dissolved in the wake of the Parnell controversies Rooney formed the Celtic Literary Society, of which he became president and editor of the society's journal, An Seanachuidhe. Along with Michael Cusack he taught Irish at the society's offices; one of their pupils was George Clancy.[1]

His writings and articles appeared in United Ireland, The Shamrock, Weekly Freeman, The Evening Herald, Shan Van Vocht and Northern Patriot in Belfast.[1]

He was persuaded by Eoin MacNeill to join the Gaelic League after its founding in 1893. As a member of the Gaelic League, which was mainly concerned with promoting the Irish language and literature, he favoured a more political approach to promoting Irish culture. He regarded Irish independence without the revival of the language and culture as meaningless.[2]

He was active on the 1798 Rising commemoration committee.[3] In 1899 he co-founded with Griffith the United Irishman newspaper and wrote many of its articles. Rooney had encouraged Griffith to return from South Africa and edit the paper. In November 1900 along with Griffith he helped establish Cumann na nGaedheal. This was an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate the activities of a number of nationalist groups, with John O'Leary as president; it was merged in 1907 to form Sinn Féin. He spent some time travelling the country promoting the Irish language and condemned the Irish Parliamentary Party for its failure to promote the language.[1]

He died suddenly of tuberculosis at the age of 27, shortly before he was due to be married to Máire Ní Cillín,[4] in May 1901. He was described by Griffith as "the Thomas Davis of the new movement".[5][6] He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

In the decade after the revolutionary period, the vital contribution of Rooney to the emergence of Sinn Féin was regularly acknowledged by many of those involved, including Brian O'Higgins, veteran of the 1916 Rising and President of Sinn Féin in the 1930s, who referred to him as "the real founder of Sinn Féin".[7][8]

His poems include "The Men of the West", "Ninety Eight", and "An tSean Bhean Bhocht". A book of his poems was posthumously published in 1902, Poems and Ballads of William Rooney.[9] The writer James Joyce gave Rooney's poems an unfavourable review in the Daily Express. Griffith responded by publishing Joyce's review in the United Irishman as an advertisement for Rooney's book of poems. His only emendation was the addition of a single word. Joyce had written that Rooney 'might have written well if he had not suffered from one of those big words which make us so unhappy.' Griffith merely inserted the word: patriotism.[10]


  1. ^ a b c McGuire, James; Quinn, James (2009). Dictionary of Irish Biography. Volume V. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy-Cambridge University Press. p. 608. ISBN 978-0-521-63331-4. |volume= has extra text (help)
  2. ^ William Rooney - Life
  3. ^ William Rooney National Graves Association
  4. ^ https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/an-irishwoman-s-diary-on-m%C3%A1ire-n%C3%AD-cill%C3%ADn-maud-gonne-and-1916-1.2629883
  5. ^ Page 249, Ireland Since the Famine by F.S.Lyons, Fontana Press (1971)
  6. ^ . . . and William Rooney spoke in Irish. History Ireland Vol. 15, Issue 1.
  7. ^ http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/26896
  8. ^ "The True Founder of Sinn Féin by Brian O'Higgins". brianofbanba.wordpress.com.
  9. ^ Poems and Ballads of William Rooney Published by Gill, Dublin 1908.
  10. ^ Page 18, Joyce's revenge: history, politics, and aesthetics in Ulysses By Andrew Gibson (Oxford University Press)

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