William Rooney

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2007), Letters, Letters, Volume 15

Sir,

—I would like to compliment Matthew Kelly for his excellent article‘. . . and William Rooney spoke in Irish’ in the Jan./Feb. 2007 issue.Rooney is indeed an important figure who is rarely considered, and thearticle does him great justice. While Rooney’s commitment to theemerging nationalism of the late 1890s until his 1901 death wasrelatively brief, his contributions were significant. His articles inThe United Irishman adamantly called for a revised or recreated Irishculture free from foreign influence. As early as the third issue of TheUnited Irishman, 25 March 1899, Rooney chastised Dublin’s Freeman’sJournal for praising the English actor Henry Irving: ‘Are we to regardBritish authors, British poets, British actors, British artists as ourown?’ Rooney repeatedly called for an Irish drama and theatre. To thisend, it is perhaps worth noting that W. B. Yeats dedicated the 1902premier of his nationalist play (authored with Lady Gregory) Kathleenni Houlihan to Rooney. It is true that Yeats may have done so in aneffort to court nationalist support as he was trying to establish anIrish theatre in the wake of the Irish Literary Theatre’s 1901collapse, but Rooney may have been far more akin to Yeats than ArthurGriffith would prove to be once J. M. Synge appeared. Rooney sharedYeats’s dislike of the Catholic Church’s conservatism, which both felthampered the advent of a new Ireland. Rooney went so far as to blamethe Church for degrading Ireland’s nationalist manhood to the level of‘harmlessness and old womanish’. Interestingly, ‘harmlessness and oldwomanish’ describes the overly pious character Shawn Keogh in Synge’sThe Playboy of the Western World (1907). Arthur Griffith’s papers,especially The United Irishman (1899–1906) and Sinn Féin (1906–14), mayhave been more radical had the working-class Rooney lived and remainedat Griffith’s side.

NELSON Ó CEALLAIGH RITSCHEL
Massachusetts Maritime Academy

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