Roots: The Clooney Clan
By Molly Ferns, Editorial Assistant
June / July 2012
In Ireland, the surname Clooney has several origins. One possible place of origin is in County Clare, where two towns, Bally-maclune and Tiermaclune, are named for the former MacClune clan of the area. Records exist of a person named Teag MacCluin living in Quin, County Clare in 1542.
The Clooney surname, also recorded as Clune, O’Cloney, Cloney, Clowney, MacCluin and MacClune, can likewise be tied to County Wexford. Several families have anglicized their name to Cloney or Clowney in this eastern region of Ireland.
Finally, there are several towns in Northern Ireland which derive their name from the Clooney clan. In County Derry, there is the small town of Clooney. According to surveys, the town was originally known as Ballynecloney, with variations such as Cloney, Cloan or Cloane existing in later years, until Clooney was decided upon.
Another village, known as Donaghcloney, exists in County Down. It has strong links to
the Irish linen industry. Donagh-cloney has a large Protestant population. Former leader of the Ulster Volunteer Force Robin “the Jackal” Jackson was a notable resident of Donaghcloney.
In all cases, the name Clooney is said to originate from the Irish word “Cluana.” Today, the meaning of cluana is difficult to identify. It is believed that when referring to a place it means “meadow,” but when referring to a person, it could mean “rogue” or “quick-witted.”
The most famous “quick-witted” Clooney is actor, director, and political activist George Clooney, who appears on the cover of this issue. Born in Lexington, Kentucky on May 6, 1961, George can trace his ancestral background to Ireland. His parents were Nina and Nick Clooney and his great-great-grandparents on his father’s side were County Kilkenny immigrants, Nicholas Clooney and Bridget Byron.
George was born into a family with strong connections to the entertainment industry. His father Nick Clooney’s career took off in the 1960s as a TV news anchor in Lexington. He then went on to host his own show in Ohio called The Nick Clooney Show. He gained national fame hosting an ABC game show called The Money Maze. Returning as an anchor, he helped WKRC-TV (Ohio’s ABC affiliate) reach #1 in the local news ratings. In 1994, Nick appeared again on national television as a host for American Movie Classics (AMC).
George tried to follow in his father’s footsteps. He attended Northern Kentucky University from 1979 to 1981 and then University of Cincinnati, majoring in Broadcast Journalism, but he did not graduate.
Rosemary Clooney was the sister of Nick Clooney. She and her sister Betty, who was also a singer, won a radio spot on Ohio’s WLW in 1945. This kickstarted her career. In 1946, she recorded with Tony Pastor’s big band for Columbia Records. In 1949, Columbia signed her as a solo artist. Her first record, Come on-a My House in 1951, was a hit. In 1954, Rosemary starred in the famous film White Christmas alongside Bing Crosby. Following that film’s success came a musical variety TV show, The Rosemary Clooney Show. She continued to sing through the 60s and 70s, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
Rosemary married Academy Award-winning actor Jose Ferrer in 1953. They had five children, two of whom, Miguel and Rafael Ferrer became actors. While Rafael mostly worked in television doing voice-overs, Miguel gained success with a role in the movie RoboCop and on television dramas Twin Peaks and Crossing Jordan.
After working odd jobs, George Clooney decided to try acting. He appeared on TV in The Facts of Life, The Golden Girls and Roseanne. His breakthrough role came with the chance to play Dr. Doug Ross on the television hospital drama ER. Soon after that he began appearing in films like One Fine Day, The Perfect Storm, Ocean’s Eleven, etc. He won his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Syriana. He was nominated for Best Actor for Michael Clayton, Up in the Air, and The Descendants. He is also well known for his humanitarian and charity work, specifically raising awareness about Darfur.
Other notable Clooneys include Frank Clune, a famous Australian author, and Francis X. Clooney, S.J., a respected Harvard professor and scholar of comparative theology.