James Mooney was a real estate and insurance agent of Irish birth who emigrated to Buffalo as a youth of 12. He was an ardent Irish nationalist who was reputed to have participated in the Fenian invasion of Canada in 1866. Unlike some other park board members whose careers were in the law, public service or as employers of large numbers, Mooney had less notoriety.
His published biographical sketch appeared in The National Cyclopedia of American Biography in 1897:
MOONEY, James, real estate operator, was born in Ireland about 1830. He came to America with his parents while yet a lad, the family settling in Buffalo, N.Y. After finishing his studies as given by the public schools, he began the study of law, but finally turned his attention to real estate, an unpromising field at that time, but his sagacity made it a potent means of money-making, and the green fields surrounding Buffalo were destined to grow greenbacks for the shrewd young operator, who had faith enough in the future of the Queen city to put money into land. A brief term of service in the office of the city tax receiver was a training school for the future real estate operator, and Mr. Mooney learned his lesson easily. The result was the accumulation of wealth, which has been well employed, and in the assistance of many a worthy cause, among others, that of Irish liberty. Leisure springs from wealth, and James Mooney’s gave him time to interest himself in themes above the sordid ones connected with mere money-getting. He is a large owner of realty in the city, and his possessions are also scattered far and wide through Erie county. Mr. Mooney has all his life been an enthusiast on the subject of Home Rule for Ireland, and has done as much as any man in America to help the cause. He was one of the leading spirits in the Irish land league of America, and was its president from 1881 until its amalgamation with the Irish national league a few years later. Previous to this time he was head of the Buffalo branch of the league. Mr. Mooney is an orator of rare power. He has been president of the real estate and brokers’ board many times; has belonged to the merchants’ exchange since its organization, and was its vice-president in 1890. He has been for years one of the Buffalo’s most useful park commissioners; he is also one of the commissioners of the state reservation at Niagara Falls, and has served the state, county, and city in many ways, without compensation, and from public spirit alone. The important position of commissioner of public works is perhaps the only paid position Mr. Mooney has ever accepted in the city government, and his services have demonstrated themselves to be of great value to the city of Buffalo.
– George Derby and Terry James White, The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, New York, James T. White & Company, 1897, Vol. 7, p. 73, digital copy online, http://books.google.com.