MacManus is educated in the local Christian Brothers school and later at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin and University College Dublin. After teaching for eighteen years at the Synge Street CBS in Dublin, he joins the staff of Radio Éireann, precursor to the Irish national broadcasting entity RTÉ, in 1948 as Director of Features.
MacManus begins writing while still teaching, first publishing a trilogy set in Penal times and concerning the life of the Gaelic poet Donncha Rua Mac Conmara comprising the novels Stand and Give Challenge (1934), Candle for the Proud (1936) and Men Withering (1939). A second trilogy follows which turns its attention to contemporary Ireland: This House Was Mine (1937), Flow On, Lovely River (1941), and Watergate (1942). The location is the fictional “Dombridge,” based on Kilkenny, and deals with established themes of Irish rural life including obsessions with land, sexual frustration, and the trials of emigration and return. Other major works include the novel The Greatest of These (1943), concerning religious conflict in nineteenth-century Kilkenny, and the biographies Boccaccio (1947) and Saint Columban (1963). In his last two novels, he descends into the depths of theological debate: The Fire in the Dust (1950) is followed by American Son (1959), a remarkable dialogue between conflicting modes of belief which reveals the strong influence of Roman Catholicism on the author.
Francis MacManus dies of a heart attack at the age of 56 in Dublin on November 27, 1965.
The RTÉ Francis MacManus Short Story Award is established in his memory in 1985. The competition is run by RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, and is open to entries written in Irish or English from authors born or resident in Ireland. The total prize fund is €6000, out of which the winning author receives €3,000. Sums of €2,000 and €1,000 are awarded to the second and third prize winners.