Rooneys continue to celebrate homestead 150 years later 

In Padua, a village initially known as Rooneyville, descendants of the Michael and Margaret Rooney lineage gathered July 2-9 to celebrate the 150-year anniversary of the Rooney farm.

“Twenty-four of us, ages one to 85, gathered in our ancestral home for the week,” said Geraldine Walsh, one of the current proprietors of the Rooney Farm. “Each generation has improved and enlarged the farm house, but it all began with a little sod dwelling over 150 years ago.”

The Rooneys have a tradition of assembling annually over the Fourth of July at the family’s homestead in Padua. They spend the week catching up, having fun at Grove Lake and celebrating their family’s history.

“Our favorite tradition is to watch the sunset on the screen porch. It is a sacred time when we all come together,” Walsh said.

This particular year, however, was made extra special, celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary and with the addition of Tommy and Patricia Rooney, two Rooney descendants recently discovered via DNA in Coreen, County Ross common, Ireland.

“Tommy and Patricia’s presence, as well as many other cousins who joined us, made this year’s event enormously enriching and a huge tribute to the ancestors,” Walsh said. “It is absolutely wonderful that they could join us all of the way from Ireland.”

The ability to celebrate the family lineage to this extent is credited to Helen B. Rooney, Walsh’s mother. Helen began gathering genealogical information about her Irish roots in 1930 – providing the foundation for later family genealogists to discover even more extensive Rooney family history.

“The Stearns County Historical Society mentioned that the Rooneys may be the best documented family in the county,” Walsh said.

Walsh has dedicated countless hours to preserving her family’s history and continuing what her mother started almost 100 years ago.

She has made eight trips to Ireland to uncover information and pay homage to her ancestors’ burial sites. Later this month, Walsh and five other family members will travel to Quebec, Canada, where her grandfather first emigrated to the New World. The group will visit the gravesite of their great uncle, John Rooney, on Grosse Ile in the St. Lawrence Seaway. John passed away on the family’s voyage from Ireland to Canada.

Walsh and her husband, Joe, live in Marin Country, California. While she did not grow up in Padua, Walsh and her seven siblings spent parts of nearly every summer at the Rooney Farm. Their mother, Helen, was born in the farmhouse in 1904; she was raised on the farm, and when she died in 1997, her wake was held in the farmhouse, just a few feet away from where she was born.

“My fondest memories growing up in Detroit are visiting the farm in Padua,” Walsh said. “It was so important to my mother that we come. She deeply loved the farm.”

Walsh and Joe, as well as her brother and sister-in-law, Dan and Suzette Felling, joint proprietors, honor their mother’s wish of preserving and celebrating the family history by maintaining the Rooney Farm and coordinating the yearly gathering of family members.

In order to accommodate an ever-expanding family, the old farmhouse has been renovated and retrofitted many times throughout the years with major enlargements in 1902, 1972, 2000 and 2015.

“Expansion of the farmhouse has allowed the family to continue gathering generations after our early 1870 ancestors,” Walsh said.

The original 160 acres granted in the Homestead Act to Michael Ward Rooney, Walsh’s grandfather, are still owned by the family. The land is operated by local relatives – allowing for the Rooneys’ farming legacy to continue in central Minnesota.