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Historic Painting Retrieved
22, Apr 2011 - 08:28

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This painting of William Rooney by Castlebar artist William Brett was recently discovered during a house renovation at Blackfort, Castlebar.

William Brett was grandfather of Jim Brett, Garryduff, Aidan Brett, Garryduff and Ivor Brett, Westport Road, Castlebar. The painting was presented to the Castlebar branch of the Celtic Literary Society on the occasion of the opening of The Rooney Hall, Tucker Street, Castlebar in 1912.

William Rooney was born in the inner city area of Dublin known as "Monto". He was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He was a distinguished journalist, language revivalist and poet; regarded Home Rule as insufficient to make a nation.

He founded the Celtic Literary Society in 1893 along with Arthur Griffith. Its aims were the study of Irish language, history, literature and music, members included John O'Leary, Frank Hugh O'Donnell, and Arthur Griffith. The Celtic Literary Society later assimilated to Cumann na nGaedheal. William Rooney was a prominent member of the Young Ireland League who, in 1890, founded the patriotic newspaper ‘The United Irishman' with Arthur Griffith. He died of T.B in 1901.

His poems included ‘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.

The Castlebar Connection

William Rooney had visited Castlebar with Maud Gonne in 1898 for the centenary celebrations of ‘The Year of the French'. He gave a passionate speech in Irish in which he exhorted people to think for themselves, to educate themselves, and not to take their teachings from others.

He founded Castlebar's first Public Library at the Town Hall, to which he dedicated his books. Three years later, at the early age of twenty-eight, William Rooney was dead, but the esteem in which he was held in Castlebar continued to grow. In 1911, a new Hurling Club in the town was named the ‘William Rooney' in his honour. The following year "The Rooney Hall" was opened in Tucker Street. It became a local landmark for several generations, much used by various civic and voluntary organisations, including the PTAA.

The one surviving connection is in ‘Poems and Ballads', a collection of Rooney's poetry edited by Arthur Griffith and published in 1902, a year after his death. An original of this title is held by Mayo County Library where it can be consulted.

1798 Centennial Celebrations

William Rooney was one of the main protagonists in establishing the National Commemoration to celebrate the centennial of the 1798 rebellion. Only one month after its inception nationalists in Mayo formed the "Castlebar Central and Barony of Carra '98 Centenary Association with James Daly appointed as president of the Connaught '98 Centenary Council. On the 9th January 1898 a commemoration, which was presided over by James Daly, was held at Frenchill, near Castlebar. This was attended by Maud Gonne Mac Bride and addressed by James Rooney. James Rooney was regarded as the "Thomas Davis" of the 1890's and was much in demand at patriotic gatherings.

James Daly pointed out that the event was both about remembering dead patriots and undertaking "to abide by the principles of the men of '98 until their country was free again and took its place among the nations of the earth."

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