William Rooney


Life
1873-1901; b. Dublin, educ. by Christian Brothers; journalist, language revivalist, and poet; he regarded Home Rule as insufficient to make a nation; fnd., with Arthur Griffith - a close associate - the Celtic Literary Society, and became its chairman; it was based on the Leinster Lit. Soc., Oct. 1893, for the study of Irish language, history, literature and music, members incl. John O’Leary, Frank Hugh O’Donnell, and Arthur Griffith; also its journal, An Seanachie;
 
later assimilated to Cumann na nGaedheal; est. United Irishman, with Arthur Griffith as editor, 1890 [DIB err. from 1899/1900]; poems incl. “The Men of the West”; “’Ninety Eight”, and “An tSean Bhean Bocht”; Poems and Ballads of William Rooney (1908) appeared posthumously prefatory notices from various hands, only to be disparaged as an example of sentimental nationalist in a review by James Joyce; Yeats dedicated the 1908 edition of Cathleen Ni Houlihan “To the Memory of William Rooney”. PI DIB DIH OCIL

[ top ]

Works
Arthur Griffith, intro., Poems and Ballads of William Rooney (Dublin 1908) [var. Pref. Patrick Bradley].

[ top ]

Criticism
Seamus MacManus, William Rooney (Dublin 1909); see also James Joyce’s scathing review, ‘An Irish Poet’, Daily Express, December 12 1902, rep. in Ellsworth Mason & Richard Ellmann, eds., Critical Writings of James Joyce [1959] 1965, pp.84-87 [infra].

[ top ]

Commentary
James Joyce, “An Irish Poet”: ‘They are illustrative of the national temper, and because they are so the writers of the introductions do not hesitate to claim for them the highest honours. But this claim cannot be allowed, un less it is supported by certain evidences of literary sincerity. For a man who writes a book cannot be excused by his good intentions, or by his moral character; he enteres into a region where there is a question of the written word, and it is well that this should be borne in mind, now that the region of literatures is assaild so fiercely by the enthusiast and the doctrine.’ Further, ‘And yet he may have written well if he had not suffered from one of those big words which make us so unhappy.’ (Review of Poems and Ballads; in Daily Express, 11 Dec. 1902; rep. in Critical Writings, ed. Mason & Ellmann, [1959] 1965, p.85, p.87.) Note that Arthur Griffith reprinted much of the review without comment in United Irishman, 20 Dec. 1902, adding only the word ‘Patriotism’ in brackets after Joyce’s phrase ‘one of those big words’. (CW, idem, ftn.1.)

[ top ]

Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘The now forgotten Williarn Rooney (1873-1902) was the last of these newspaper “bards,” and his posthumous Poems and Ballads was hailed by Arthur Griffith, who had joined Rooney in founding the influential weekly The United Irishman. Clearly Rooney was a man to be respected by patriots. One can imagine the antagonism aroused among such patriots by the review of the young James Joyce, just graduated from college, who found the poet “almost a master in that ‘style’ which is neither good nor bad.” The verse was described as "“a false and mean expression of a false and mean idea,” in that the author had been diverted from literature to patriotism. Even though his work might “enkindle [112] the young men of Ireland to hope and activity”, as Rooney’s admirers claimed, art, continued the reviewer, “is a stern judge.” Yet “he might have written well if he had not suffered from one of those big words which make us so unhappy” - a phrase which Joyce remembered for fifteen years, when he put it into the mouth of Stephen Dedalus in the second chapter of Ulysses.’ (pp.112-13; and see the original of Joyce's review under Joyce, supra.)

[ top ]

Frank Callanan, ‘Why Joyce, the “Bohemian Aesthete”, was also a Political Controversialist’, in The Irish Times (22 Jan. 2011), Weekend Sect.‘The United Irishman, published 1899-1906, was a brilliant journalistic venture with a tiny circulation. In politics it anticipated the programme of Sinn Féin, and was implacably opposed to John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party. What was distinctive in the conception of the United Irishman  was that its content was not exclusively political. It engaged with the literary revival (though Griffith fell out with W. B. Yeats early on), and the paper was crammed with literary, mythological, antiquarian and historical material relating to Ireland. / The paper was a collaborative venture between Griffith, who edited it, and his contemporary William Rooney. Rooney was persuaded that political nationalism without the revival of the Irish language was meaningless, if not pernicious, and wrote prolifically on the subject in the United Irishman. Griffith loved and deferred to Rooney, without sharing his insistence on the revival of Irish. Going back to his support of Parnell in the split of 1890-91, Griffith had a serious political head. The United Irishman was a skilful composite of the divergent thinking of Griffith and Rooney. [...] The publication of Dubliners, he never forgave him the attack on Rooney. As Padraic Colum wrote, “the young man who had belittled his poems in a Unionist journal was, to Arthur Griffith, a man of sinister mind and intention.”’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Major Authors > Joyce”, via index, or direct.)

[ top ]

References
F. W. Bateson, ed., The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Vol. III [1800-1900] (Cambridge UP 1940; rep. 1966), lists Wiliam Rooney under “Anglo-Irish Literature” (pp.1045-1067).

Belfast Linen Hall Library holds Poems and Ballads (n.d.); Belfast Central Public Library holds Poems and Ballads (n.d.); Prose Writings (1909). University of Ulster Library (Morris Collection) holds Poems and Ballads. (United Irishman, 1908); Prose Writing (Gill c. 1909).

[ top ]

Notes
James Joyce held a copy of Poems and Ballads, ed., Arthur Griffith (Dublin United Irishman [1902]), in his Trieste Library. (See Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of James Joyce, Faber, p.125 [Appendix]. Note also, Stanislaus Joyce informed his brother that the phrase ‘scrupulous meanness’ - was simply a revision of the phrase “studiously mean” which Joyce had used in a 1902 review of William Rooney’s Poems and Ballads. (Quoted in Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, ed., Morris Beja & Shari Benstock [1989], p.99.)

[ top ]

Arthur Griffith: Rooney was the friend and collaborator of Arthur Griffith, founding with his the National Literary Club, later Sinn Féin, and establishing the United Irishman, which Griffith edited. His role in the development of cultural and political nationalism is detailed in FSL Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (1971), and other works. His poetry is as bad as Joyce contends it to be. See also brief remarks on him in John Kelly, ‘A Lost Play of the Abbey [by Fred Ryan], in Ariel, vol. 1. no.3 (July 1970).

[ top ]