Rooney, Philip (1907–62), writer, journalist, and scriptwriter, was born 26 March 1907 in Collooney, Co. Sligo, son of Henry Rooney and Margaret Rooney (née Mulligan), both national school teachers. His siblings included at least two brothers and a sister. He was educated locally at Camphill school, where his father was teacher, and subsequently attended Mungret College, Limerick. His interests were always literary and historical but he opted initially for a banking career: he served as a clerk at the Hibernian Bank in Mohill, Co. Leitrim, and thereafter in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, where he developed the writing talent that decided his future. Showing a strong affinity for horse racing, he had the good fortune to live near Mullingar racecourse, where he could observe its culture at close quarters. One of his early works on the theme, entitled ‘Irish fortune’, won an Irish Hospitals Sweepstake short-story competition.
Rooney's first novel, All out to win, also on a racing theme but located in the Boyne Valley at a diplomatic remove from Mullingar, was published in Dublin in 1935. Its success drove him to abandon banking for a literary life. He had a steady output of novels, notably Red sky at dawn (1938); North Road (1940); Singing river (1944); Captain Boycott (1946); The golden coast (1947); and The long day (1951). Having left Mullingar to establish his new career, sometimes writing as ‘Frank Phillips’, he settled at Bar na Culla, Meath Road, Bray, Co. Wicklow. He varied his creative work as far as his talents would allow, particularly in print journalism and broadcasting. Overnight entry, another racing tale, was serialised in the Sligo Champion in 1939. He was for some time a radio critic at the Irish Times and later moved to Radio Éireann, where his work ranged from scriptwriting to plays and adaptations of authors' works. Examples included his award-winning play ‘The quest for Matt Talbot’ and a frequently repeated adaptation of Brinsley McNamara's (qv) story, ‘The three mad schoolmasters’.
In 1947 Rooney was appointed assistant to the head of general features at Radio Éireann but decided soon afterwards to divide his time between that station and the BBC, while continuing as a novelist. Of all his novels, which were appreciated especially for their inclusion of actual locations and for their historical ambience, Captain Boycott was the most consequential book for him in terms of lasting renown and glamour. He had chosen a highly emotive theme of the latter days of landlordism on the Co. Mayo estate at Lough Mask where Capt. Charles Boycott (qv) was the eponymous and beleaguered land agent for Lord Erne. The story had an added sense of connection with the historic events, being partly drawn from family memory of eyewitness accounts in the Cong area, where Rooney's parents were once teachers. It was filmed in Ireland in 1947 by British director Frank Launder with a star cast that included Stewart Granger, Robert Donat, and Noel Purcell (qv). The author often visited the set and the film premiered in Dublin's Theatre Royal, receiving mixed reviews, including some dismissive criticism in The Bell (November 1947). The book sold well internationally, especially in America, and was republished at least twice after the author's death.
Although dogged by ill health, which gradually worsened, Rooney remained undaunted as his work continued in both fact and fiction. After spending some time as head of features at the short-lived Irish News Agency he rejoined the staff of Radio Éireann in 1953 and remained as features editor and scriptwriter until 1961, latterly making biographical feature programmes on Anglo-Irish contributors to the Irish national revival. When Telefís Éireann, the new national television station, opened in that year he was transferred to its drama department as chief script-editor. He suffered protracted illness, however, and died 6 March 1962 at a Dublin hospital, aged 51, survived by his wife Moira and two sons. He was buried at Little Bray cemetery, Bray, Co. Wicklow. Although living outside Co. Sligo for most of his life, he had featured its people and places where possible in his works, thus preserving his name as a Collooney writer.