Guinee, William Bernard (1839–1901), journalist, poet and novelist, was baptised in Buttevant, Co. Cork, on 26 September 1839, the eldest child and only son of Michael Guinee and his wife Ellen (née Connors); they subsequently had two daughters, Mary Ann (1841) and Bridget (1842). At the time of Griffith's valuation when Guinee was just entering his teenage years, his family lived on Main Street, Buttevant, in a two-story house; the valuation of £7 placed it in the upper quintile for Buttevant town. Despite the relatively comfortable status suggested by this ranking, on his 1884 marriage certificate the 'rank or profession of father' field was left blank.
While a schoolboy, Guinee displayed a remarkable literary talent. He was appointed teacher in the local school, but this occupation appealed neither to his sympathies nor inclinations. He forwarded a number of contributions on a variety of topics to the Cork Examiner, including a poem entitled 'Old Erin in the sea', described on its publication (28 February 1863) and its inclusion in a number of subsequent anthologies as a translation from the original Irish poem by Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill (qv). However, no corresponding original has been identified in Mac Domhnaill's oeuvre, and the style of 'Old Erin in the sea' bears scant resemblance to that of Mac Domhnaill. In any event, the publication of Guinee's contributions attracted such favourable comment that, through the good offices of the editor, John Francis Maguire (qv), he secured an appointment on the literary staff of the Examiner. By 1872 Guinee was on the staff of the Freeman's Journal for the notorious case of the Galway election petition: he was the only journalist present to report on the intemperate speech delivered by Judge William Keogh (qv), who had returned early to deliver his judgment in the expectation that no journalist would be present to record it.
Shortly after April 1875 Guinee moved again, this time to London, where he distinguished himself in a multiplicity of journalistic and literary roles spanning almost two decades. He was London correspondent of the Irish Times (with his own seat in the press gallery of the house of commons), leader writer for the Globe and for the Morning Advertiser, and contributed a weekly review of parliamentary activity to the Observer. His novel Talbot's folly (1882) was serialised in Tinsley's Magazine. Reviewed in the Spectator (24 March 1883), it was praised for its 'well-constructed plot' and 'broad and rollicking' humour, and described as 'more than ordinarily promising' for a first novel.
In 1884 Guinee married (in Rathdown registration district) Marie Francis Magrath, daughter of a well-to-do farming family from Ballyadam, Churchtown, near Buttevant. The marriage was childless.
Guinee's accumulated wealth allowed him to return permanently to Ireland, and in 1893 he acquired a leasehold interest in Buttevant Castle. His final years were blighted by progressive paralysis following a stroke, and he died at his home on 1 September 1901. His widow Marie, who continued to live in Buttevant Castle, survived him by twenty-seven years. A pen-and-ink portrait of William Guinee appears in Twenty years ago (1905), a collection of reminiscences of late Victorian literary life in London.
Both prior to and during his period in London, Guinee gave occasional, well-received lectures at the Cork Literary and Scientific Society, which attracted capacity attendances. Throughout his career, and even following the onset of his paralysis, he contributed sketches to the Christmas supplement of the Cork Examiner, to which he retained an enduring loyalty. Many of these included Cork-themed humorous verse compositions, the popularity of which is attested by the fact that two of them, 'The chant of the Coal Quay' and 'The Star of Sunday's Well', were included by Colm Ó Lochlainn (qv) in More Irish street ballads (1965), where his name (pronounced like guinea, with the stress on the second syllable) is incorrectly given as Guiney. It is thanks to one of these that he is most remembered today, for 'The Star of Sunday's Well' has entered the traditional song canon, enjoying popularity among traditional singers of this and previous generations, who are attracted to it by such well-crafted burlesque lines as: