MacManus, Michael Joseph (M. J.) (1888–1951), author, journalist, humorist, and bibliophile, was born 10 February 1888 at Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, son of Patrick MacManus, a schoolmaster, and Maria MacManus (née Toole). Educated at the Presentation school in Carrick-on-Shannon, he later studied at Farnham college, Surrey. He attended the University of London, then worked as a teacher in Blackburn, Lancashire (1907–10). While working as a journalist on Fleet St. (1910–16), he was a member of the Fabian society, and contributed many articles to Irish newspapers and journals, including the Leader. Returning to Ireland in 1916 as a freelance journalist, he became actively involved in the independence movement as a writer, his contributions to The Irishman expressing his nationalist beliefs of the time.
MacManus's first book, A jackdaw in Dublin (1924), comprised parodies and imitations of contemporary Irish writers, such as W. B. Yeats (qv), James Joyce (qv), Padraic Colum (qv), Lady Augusta Gregory (qv), and Austin Clarke (qv), and earned him the nickname ‘Jackdaw MacManus’. An expanded second edition, entitled A green jackdaw (1925), added parodies of contemporary English and American literati. ‘So this is Dublin!’ (1927), a humorous profile of the city, included sketches such as ‘The American's guide to Dublin’ and ‘Irish biography for beginners’; Joyce parodied the parodist's title in Finnegans wake (1939) as ‘So this is Dyoublong?’. MacManus collaborated with Liam O'Flaherty (qv) in the research for the latter's The life of Tim Healy (1927), which was dedicated to him by O'Flaherty. He published several collections of verse. Connaught songs (1927), illustrated by Seán O'Sullivan (qv), was a slim volume of short lyrics conventional in tone, some of them reprinted from the Catholic Bulletin and the Irish Statesman. Dublin diversions (1928) was an assemblage of poems, parodies, and satirical sketches that included a parody of Oscar Hammerstein's ‘Ol' man river’ entitled ‘Ol' man Shaw’, satirising George Bernard Shaw (qv). Five ballades (1932) was privately printed, while Rackrent hall, and other poems (1934) included an introductory note on contemporary Irish poetry expressing MacManus's aversion to the modernist movement, owing to ‘its solemnity, its tunelessnes, and its obscurity’.
MacManus began to write for the Irish Press in 1931, his daily item ‘This happened to-day’ becoming a popular feature. Appointed the newspaper's first literary editor in 1935, he recruited such talent as Patrick Kavanagh (qv), Brian O'Nolan (qv), Lennox Robinson (qv), Máirtín Ó Cadhain (qv), and Brendan Behan (qv) as regular contributors. He contributed reviews and bibliographical lists to the Dublin Magazine, and published A bibliographical hand-list of the first editions of Thomas Moore (1934), and A bibliography of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1940). He lectured frequently to the Bibliographical Society of Ireland, and was its president (1938–41). He was sometime president of the Book Association of Ireland. A broadcaster with Radio Éireann, he was an adjudicator for the radio programme ‘Question time’ (1938–9). In the early 1940s he wrote stories for The Bell.
His historical miscellany Irish cavalcade, 1550–1850 (1939), compiled from his own collection of rare books, broadsides, and pamphlets, spanned three centuries of Irish history to embrace the plantations, Cromwell's incursion, the periods of Jonathan Swift (qv) and the Georgians, the 1798 rising, and catholic emancipation. He edited the centenary volume Thomas Davis and Young Ireland (1945), which included his essay ‘The ‘forty-eight men in exile’, about the Irish nationalists exiled to Tasmania after the 1848 rising. His most controversial work was Eamon de Valera: a biography (1944), an attempt to interpret his subject's personality. Widely regarded as unbalanced in its assessment, the book generated a public row in The Bell with Sean O'Faolain (qv), who dismissively reviewed its sympathetic profile of de Valera as superficial. MacManus responded with an open letter to the magazine accusing O'Faolain's editorials of being peevish, depressing, and defeatist. An essay by MacManus on ‘Shaw's Irish boyhood’ was included in the 1946 compilation G.B.S. 90: aspects of Bernard Shaw's life and work; Shaw replied with the chapter ‘Biographers' blunders corrected’ in his own book Sixteen self sketches (1949), drawing attention to MacManus's distortions of fact. MacManus selected the contents of the Easter rising memorial issue of Poetry Ireland (April 1951), for which he wrote an introductory essay.
MacManus and his wife Rosaleen (‘Rosie’) had one daughter, and lived at Cherrymount, Donnycarney, Co. Dublin. He died 21 September 1951 while on holiday in Portnablagh, Co. Donegal, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. Adventures of an Irish bookman (1952), a posthumous selection edited by Francis MacManus (qv), who also wrote an impressionistic biographical preface, comprises contributions to the Irish Press, the Sunday Press, and Radio Éireann, and includes a pen portrait by S. J. Mullally.