Rooney – descendants of the ‘Champion of Ulster’

History of the Irish name Rooney. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Rooney is a popular name in Ireland and is also found commonly in Britain, America and Australia.
It originated in Ireland around the 10th century. Ireland had no one ruler at the time and was divided up into several mini-kingdoms owned by family clans.

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One of these families was named O’ Ruanaidh. They held territories around the area now known as County Down and other parts of Ulster. The name came from the Gaelic word ‘ruanaidh’ which meant champion. The leader of this clan would have been given the title as champion for his achievements, possibly on the battlefield or even from a sporting contest.

All members of this clan would’ve also taken the name. As the generations passed, and Ruanaidh passed the leadership of his family down to his sons, the prefix ‘O’ was added to the family name. This was a Gaelic custom to refer to the ‘descendant of’ a clan leader.
The O’ Ruanaidh family were known as being educated and intelligent people. They were close allies and also chief poets to the McGuinness family. Ceallach O’ Ruanaidh held the position of ‘Chief Poet of Ireland’ in the late 11th century.

Name was anglicised after Cromwellian invasion

Many Irish people altered their names in the 17th century following the English invasion led by Oliver Cromwell. Most Irish land was given to British settlers and it was difficult to find work if you had an Irish sounding name. For this reason, many people named O’ Ruanaidh changed the spelling and pronunciation of their name to the more English-sounding Rooney. Variations such as Roony, O’Rooney and Roney also appeared at this time.

The name was spread around the world in the years after the ‘Great Famine’ in Ireland. A series of failed potato crops in the mid-1800s led to millions of Irish deaths because of disease and starvation. More than a million people left Ireland for America, Britain, Canada and Australia to start a new life and Rooney became a common name around the world.

Famous Rooneys around the world

There have been several noteworthy people named Rooney throughout history.
Wayne Rooney. Photo copyright Kjetil CC2
Mickey Rooney was a veteran American actor who was a legend of Hollywood. He starred in countless films from the 1920s right up until the 2000s. Laurence Olivier once described him as “the greatest actor of them all. Rooney died in 2014.

Wayne Rooney is an English footballer who was one of the best players in the world throughout the 2000s. In 2014, he was given the captain’s armband for both Manchester United and the England national team. Rooney has won the English Premier League several times and also won the Champions League in 2008.

Joe Don Rooney is an American musician who is the lead guitarist for the country band the Rascal Flatts.

Art ‘the Chief’ Rooney founded the American Football team the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933. He remained the team owner up until his death in 1988. The side is now owned by Rooney’s family.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings

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