Mooney, John Joseph (1920–2000), farmer and publisher, was born 8 March 1920 in a nursing home at 4 Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin, elder of two children of Patrick Mooney, farmer and cattle dealer, a native of Athy, Co. Kildare, who had inherited an uncle's farm at Kilmurry, Co. Kildare (near Enfield), and Mary Anne Mooney (née O'Kane), a poultry instructress from Drumeel, Co. Longford; his sister died at age nine. Reared at Kilmurry, he was educated at national school locally, and at Castleknock College, Co. Dublin. Though a good student, he left at age 15 to assist full time on the family cattle farm. An enthusiastic member of the young farmers’ organisation, Macra na Feirme, he served on the first Kildare county executive (1949). In the late 1940s he visited England and Holland, and was impressed by the post-war revitalisation of farming in those countries. As Macra's national chairman (1951–3), he initiated the organisation's contacts with officials of the Department of Agriculture. He was among a small group of farmers who in 1954 defied the Irish government's ban on use of the myxomatosis infection as a means to control the rabbit population by importing several swabs from England to enable Irish farmers to spread the disease.
Convinced that modernisation of Irish farming could be effectively promoted by a widely circulated, reliable, and outspoken specialist agricultural periodical, during 1951 he assembled a small management team to purchase and reinvigorate the struggling Irish Farmers’ Journal. Launched in 1948 as an official Macra na Feirme organ, but starved of cash and ineptly managed, the fortnightly Journal, with circulation stagnating at 2,000, had been taken over by its printer in lieu of debts. Providing nearly the entire purchase fee of £4,000, and injecting additional capital to offset early post-purchase losses, Mooney became life chairman with a share exceeding 95 per cent, the remainder being held by his several fellow directors. His staff included Paddy O'Keeffe, a Macra colleague and progressive manager of Portrane hospital farm, as editor, and Michael Dillon (qv) as reporter on machinery and markets. Reconstituted as a weekly, and stimulated by Mooney's business acumen, under the new team the Irish Farmers’ Journal rapidly became valued for the quality of its technical, financial, and market information. It pioneered new ideas and methods, assessed technical innovations with relevance to Irish needs, and provided a forum to debate issues of agricultural policy. Despite Mooney's apprehensions that an issues-focused advocacy organisation might dilute the idealism represented by the non-party-political Macra na Feirme, he and the Journal supported formation of the National Farmers’ Association (NFA). They also encouraged development of the Agricultural Research Institute. Mooney later chaired the NFA grain committee. Under the slogan ‘fearlessly on the farmer's side’, the Journal aroused controversy with trenchant critiques and satirical swipes at government agricultural policy, and at an agriculture department characterised as remote from farm opinion. Addressing an NFA function in January 1956, the Fine Gael minister for agriculture, James Dillon (qv), blasted the Farmers’ Journal as ‘the Pravda rag of Fianna Fáil’, which ‘pushed the views of three or four individuals, not of Macra’, only to be vigorously rebutted by subsequent speakers (Smith, 51).
Within ten years of the re-launch, the Irish Farmers’ Journal had displaced British-based publications to become the leading farming periodical in Ireland, with weekly circulation surpassing 50,000. All profits were devoted to development of editorial content and circulation. In 1961 Mooney rejected a takeover bid of £10,000 from the Thompson group, a Canadian-based newspaper conglomerate. Fearing eventual takeover by such a purely commercial, perhaps overseas, interest, and desiring to assure the link between the title and the Irish agricultural community, Mooney and his partners surrendered ownership of the Journal and transferred all shares without compensation into the newly established, charitable Agricultural Trust. Four of the eight trustees were to be appointed by the NFA, and all profits devoted to development of the Journal and of Irish agriculture generally, with one-third being specifically earmarked for research grants and travel bursaries for young farmers. Having thus converted a valuable asset into a non-profit charity, Mooney served the trust as unpaid, non-executive chairman until November 1993, by which date the Journal's weekly sales exceeded 70,000. He was also chairman of the overseas development organisation Gorta (1974–9).
In 1952 Mooney sold Kilmurry and bought a 300-acre farm at Kilegland, Ashbourne, Co. Meath, on land more suitable for tillage. Among the most progressive farmers of his time, he cultivated wheat and barley, and reared sheep, importing a Clun Forest herd from England. Among the first five farmers authorised to import Charolais cattle into the state (1964), he became a leading Charolais breeder and a champion of its propagation, seeing it become in time the leading beef breed in Ireland. In later years he farmed at Drumree, Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath. He married (1955) Mary Taylor, of Baldurgan, Ballyboghil, Co. Dublin, secretary of Macra's Swords branch; they had three sons and four daughters.
Deeply committed to the development of Irish agriculture as his dominant motive, overriding fame or personal wealth, Mooney shunned publicity, his contributions thereby being unrecognised by the wider public. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Irish Farmers’ Journal (1998), he was hailed by President Mary McAleese as a true modern patriot in the mould of Horace Plunkett (qv). He died 19 October 2000 at St Vincent's hospital, Dublin; by his direction, his body was donated to medical research.