Category: Archive

Family ties

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

He and his brother Joe lived with their father’s sister and her family in West Kentish Town. “I guess they thought the best thing was to ship us back to Ireland rather than the countryside in England, ” said Rooney, who lives in Great Neck, L.I.
By prior arrangement with her brother’s in-laws, the aunt took out a classified ad in a Dublin newspaper to tell them when Joe, who was six, and little Pat would be put on the boat-train and when they were scheduled to arrive.
The boys’ first entry into their parents’ native city three years earlier was accompanied by a little more fanfare. On May 2, 1938, the Irish Press reported that the Anchor Line’s ship Caledonia docked in Dublin the day before, its second port of call after leaving New York. Forty passengers were brought ashore in the tender.
The piece headlined “American Tourists” said: “The party included seven children, who went to stay with friends in Sandymount, Dublin.”
It continued: “The Rev. Dr. D. Kelly, New York, returned home to spend a holiday in his native Derry. Among those embarking were two well-known Belfast linen shippers, Mr. Acheson Glendinning and Mr. William McClatchey.”
In fact, the seven children were accompanied by their father, Jim Rooney Sr., a printer by occupation who’d been widowed 13 months earlier.
Jim Jr., Tom, Bob, Maura, Fred, Joe and Pat Rooney would all eventually return to New York. Five of the six brothers served in the armed forces. Bob, the youngest of the three who went in Korea, was killed in action in late October 1952. Only Joe, who was badly injured in a car smash on Long Island, didn’t join up.
And except for Fred, who settled in the south of England after serving in Germany, they’ve spent their adult lives in this country.

Family reunions
The Rooneys are native-born Americans who raised American children. Yet the influences of their parents’ native city, where they spent their formative years, are indelible. They’ve retained Dublin accents and Dublin turns of phrase, for example, and their emotional attachments to those who raised them – though mostly long dead — are strong.
The six surviving Rooneys, who have 19
children, will gather next month with their spouses in Las Vegas for their biennial reunion.
“We’re close in an Irish way,” Pat Rooney said, explaining that they’ve always been supportive of one another through tough times, whatever the distances between them.
“We never lived together as a family after my mother died,” said Tom Rooney, the second eldest.
Dina Rooney passed away the day that she gave birth to Pat, who turns 70 on March 30. Her first born, Jim Jr., was three months short of his 8th birthday.
The children were sent initially to orphanages and were then placed with families throughout the New York City area. Tom Rooney still remembers his foster parents, the Bowers, as kindly people who had daughters about his age.
“My brother Bob hit a bad one; they didn’t treat him very well,” said Rooney, who lives in Belvedere, N.J. “During the Depression times, people took children just to supplement their income. So you were going to get a few bad ones in there.”
His third son’s experience helped Jim Rooney decide to take his children to Dublin. Another factor was that visiting each of his children on the weekend had become exhausting and time-consuming.
“It wasn’t easy,” said his second son.

Church recollection
Tom Rooney has just a few strong memories of life when the family was together in Astoria, the Queens neighborhood that his parents settled in after marriage.
“Certain things stick in your mind,” he said.
He recalled a “bitterly cold” winter. The kids would interrupt their playing in the street to warm their hands on the pipes in the hallway, inevitably bringing in snow with them.
“The janitor wasn’t very happy with us and chased us back outside,” he said.
The only clear recollection of his mother was going to church with her at night. “I don’t know if it was Easter,” he said. “It seems like it was just her and me, for some reason.”
In Dublin, Tom Rooney was placed with his mother’s first cousin Bob Holland and his wife, who lived on the Naas Road. This second parting with his father and siblings was difficult. He was told later that he had to be locked in the bathroom. “I really put on a show,” he said.
“It was a traumatic experience. I took a while to get over that,” he said, adding that he was a rebellious child for a time.
Soon, there was another upset. Bob Holland’s wife, his new surrogate mother, died. His Uncle Bob then married a young woman who had been the family maid, a move much resented by his older children. (She passed away in Dublin quite recently, he said.)
Yet through the traumas and tensions, Tom Rooney was always treated as one of the family. For instance, no distinction was made between him and a cousin who was just a few months his senior. “Everything he would get, I would get,” he recalled.
When Pat returned from London, he joined Jim Jr. and Maura in the Bath Avenue, Sandymount, home of his maternal grandfather. Meanwhile Bob, Fred and Joe were each placed with maternal relatives in the neighborhood.
Jim Rooney Sr. got a job in Cahill printers in Kilmainham, though he was unhappy with Dublin wages. Born in January 1885, and raised in Summerhill, in the north inner city, he took off as a youth and ended up working as an able-bodied seaman.
He eventually settled in New York, where he became a linotype operator for the New York Sun and other papers. A fellow Dubliner and linotype operator, Stephen Holland, introduced him to a cousin, Sarah Alicia Cullen, who was known to all as Dina. Rooney and Cullen got married in St. Joan of Arc Church, Jackson Heights, in August 1928. He was 43; she would soon be 33.
Now, at 54, with their children safely ensconced with her large extended family (other than Joe and Pat who soon would be), he decided to go back to New York. “That was before the war got going in earnest,” said Tom Rooney. In the war’s early years, he got a job as a printer on a ship that traveled between the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro.
Pat Rooney earliest memories are of that conflict. He can recall the family seeking refuge from aerial bombing in the “coal hole underneath the stairs.” Tea, of course, was always made in the face of adversity, and he remembers still Aunt Pauline’s cup and saucer rattling in the dark.
In 1941, responsibility for Pat’s care shifted to the maternal side on Bath Avenue. Three of Dina’s sisters were still at home, though one married shortly afterwards.

Historic figures
At first, being a few miles away, Tom lived somewhat apart from his siblings and he went to a different school (O’Connell’s CBS to his brothers’ Westland Row CBS). But as soon as he was 12 or 13, and could take the bus, he regularly traveled to Sandymount for day trips at the weekend.
However, he also lived a full life with his adoptive family. He values now the fact he that met several interesting people involved in the revolutionary period. Bob Holland had been a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, was out in 1916, interned in Frongoch and subsequently active in the War of Independence.
Indeed the connection provided a link to his mother, who was close to the Hollands, particularly Bob’s mother, her aunt, and she’d worked a courier in the movement before her immigration in 1921. She was in their house once when the Black and Tans raided.
Holland’s circle during Tom Rooney’s childhood and youth were strong Michael Collins loyalists; some of them socialized in the 1916-21 Club in the city. They included a neighbor, Paddy O’Daly, head of the Squad, whom Collins dubbed “my Black and Tans,” and later a Free State army officer.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Piaras B

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