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MacKenna is one of the
few names from which the old Gaelic prefixes of Mac and O were not
generally dropped in the dark period of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries and in 1890 Mac (or Mc) Kenna outnumbers Kenna by a factor
of ten to 1. Though almost always written MacKenna (or in modern
times McKenna), in the spoken language Kenna is quite common and in
some places, notably Clare and Kerry, the emphasis is on the final A,
with the result that births have been from time to time registered
under many synonyms - such as Kennagh, Ginnaw and even Gna. These
forms are peculiar to Co. Kerry. By origin, however, the MacKennas do
not belong to Munster. They are a branch of the southern Ui Neill
but, nevertheless, they are seated in south Ulster, their territory
being Truagh (the modern barony of Trough in the northern part of Co.
Monaghan). A branch of this sept settled in the parish of Maghera.
Co. Down in the seventeenth century. The MacKennas, though "lords
of Truagh", were not prominent in mediaeval times. O'Dugan in
the "Topographical Poems" says that they were originally
Meathmen before they settled in Truagh. In Irish it was Mac Cionaodha
(now Mac Cionnaith), meaning son of Cionaoidh.
The following is a
translation of an address presented by the Lord of Truagh to Hugh Roe
(or Red Hugh) O'Donnell, then in his 15th year of age, on the
occasion of his escape from Dublin Castle A.D. 1587, when the said
Red Hugh was making his way home to Tirconnell:
a son of O'Donnell be cheerless and cold
MacKenna's wide hearth has a faggot to spare?
O'Donnell is poor, shall MacKenna have gold?
be clothed, while a limb of O'Donnell is bare?
sickness and hunger thy sinews assail,
MacKenna, unmoved, quaff his madder of mead?
the haunch of a deer shall MacKenna regale ?
a Chief of Tirconnell is fainting for food?
enter my dwelling, my feast thou shalt share;
my pillow of rushes thy head shall recline;
bold is the heart and the hand that will dare
harm but one hair of a ringlet of thine.
come to my home, 'tis the home of a friend,
the green woods of Truagh thou art safe from thy foes:
sons of Mackenna thy steps shall attend,
their six sheathless skeans shall protect thy repose."
of Monaghan" ties the family to Portinaghy, parish of Donogh,
where one of the name was sheriff. In 1640 sixteen McKennas were in
the barony of Trough, three of whom were protestant. In 1659 there
were over 90 heads of families of the name in Monaghan. In 1591,
Patrick McKenna was granted Ballydavough, Ballymeny and Ballylattin
and twelve other estates.
In Ulster, the name is
sometimes found as McKenney and McKinney, though both of these names
can also have other origins.
Little more is known of
the MacKennas in earlier times, and it is not until the eighteenth
century that a variety of McKenna writers began to emerge. Niall
MacKenna (circa 1700), a poet and harpist, was born in the The Fews,
County Armagh, but settled in County Louth. He is remembered best for
his pretty song "Little Celia Connellan".
Theobald MacKenna (died
1808) was secretary, in 1791, to the Catholic Committee, a moderate
group eager for parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation.
Deeply disturbed by Wolfe Tone's republicanism and the anti-religious
gospel of the French Revolution, he resigned. He favoured the linking
of Ireland's parliament with that of Britain, but when the Act of
Union was passed he was bitterly disillusioned by all its broken
pledges. He wrote many scathing pamphlets expressing his disgust. In
his writings he also promoted the idea of raising the Catholic Church
in Ireland to the establishment status enjoyed by the Protestant Church.
Father Charles MacKenna,
a parish priest, left his native Trough to be a chaplain with the
Irish Brigade in France and fought at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745.
John O Hart's Irish
Landed Gentry lists a number of high-ranking MacKenna officers who
served with these Irish Brigades.
John (Juan) MacKenna
(1771 - 1814) was born at Clogher, County Tyrone. His
great-great-grandfather, John, a Jacobite High Sheriff in County
Monaghan, had been killed by the Williamites shortly before the
battle of the Boyne. A kinsman Alexander O Reilly, a general in the
Spanish army who had been Governor of Louisiana from 1767 to 1769,
took the young John MacKenna to Spain in 1784 and had him enrolled in
the Royal Academy of Mathematics at Barcelona. From there he
graduated to the Irish corps of engineers in the Spanish army where
he served under Alexander O Reilly. Promotion was not fast enough for
him and, in 1796, John MacKenna set sail for Peru with an
introduction to a fellow Irishman, the Viceroy Ambrosio O Higgins.
His engineering training had been thorough, and was of great benefit
to Chile, where he became Governor of Osorno. A most skilled
engineer, he was given the job of building fortifications along the
coast when an invasion from France was threatened. In 1810 he joined
the revolutionary party led by Carrera, but they soon fell out and
MacKenna was banished, only to be recalled and promoted to
brigadier-general in order to fight the Spanish. When Bernardo, son
of Ambrosio O Higgins supplanted Carrera, MacKenna joined him. He
became caught up in the power struggle between these two rival
dictators and, in a duel in Buenos Aires, was killed by Carrera's
brother. He had
married a Chilean lady
whose name was Vicuna, and his son, Benjamina Vicuna MacKenna (1831 -
86), far from following in the family military career, became a very
distinguished Chilean writer and historian.
The stream of MacKenna
writers continued in Ireland with no less than three Stephen
MacKennas. Two were novelists who wrote in the mid-1880s. The third,
Stephen MacKenna (1872 - 1934), is famous for his translation of
Plotinus. He started off inauspiciously enough, working in a Dublin
bank, and then went into journalism in London. When he moved to Paris
he met many of the leaders of the Irish literary renaissance. He
joined the international brigade fighting for Greece when it was
attacked by Turkey. This adventure began his enduring love of Greek
literature. He travelled extensively and worked as a journalist in
the world's capitals. He abandoned a lucrative job with a New York
newspaper, disliking its yellow journalism, to return to Dublin to
work for the Irish language revival. He took no active part in the
1916 rising because of poor health. Between 1917 and 1930 he
concentrated on his major work, the translation of the Enneads of the
great Greek philosopher, Plotinus.
Father Lambert McKenna
(1870 - 1953), a Jesuit priest born in Dublin, studied in Europe. He
collected and edited religious and folk poetry in the Irish language.
Working with the Irish Texts Society, he edited the famous Contention
of the Bards and many anthologies of Irish bardic poetry and
historical works, which had for long been neglected.
Siobhan McKenna (1923 -
86) was born in Belfast and brought up in Galway, where her father,
Owen McKenna, was a professor at University College, Galway. Her
mother was an O Reilly. Graduating from university with degrees in
Irish and French, she studied acting and became Ireland's leading
actress, known particularly for her performances in Shaw's St Joan
and as Molly Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses.
Thomas Patrick McKenna (born 1929) of Mullagh, County Cavan, is more
usually known by his initials, T.P. He has been a member of the Abbey
Theatre and has made many stage, screen and television appearances in England.
emigrated. Charles Hyacinth McKenna, a Dominican priest who was born
in Ireland in 1835, went to the United States in 1851. He became a
powerful preacher and writer in Jacksonville, Florida.
Joseph McKenna, whose
parents were Irish, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1840.
He became a legislator, congressman and Supreme Court jurist in
California. At one time he was suspected of bias towards promoting
the railroads. His record on the bench was praised for sound
judgement spiced with social vision.
Martin McKenna (1832 -
1907) belonged to a farming family that emigrated to Australia. He
was born in Kilkenny to Patrick McKenna and Anastasia Feehan. In
1845, when the Great Famine was threatening, he emigrated with his
cousin, Michael, to Victoria. He worked in the mines before going
into business with his cousin and another friend. Together they built
up the very successful Campaspe Brewery in Kyneton. They branched out
into farming and had between four and five thousand acres. He was
Mayor of Kyneton and was elected to the Legislative Assembly. There
were eleven McKenna children born in Kyneton.
It is recorded that, in
1874, the great Marshal McMahon, President of France, sold his Castle
Ardo, near Ardmore, Waterford, to Sir Joseph McKenna of the National
Bank, uncle of the politician Reginald McKenna. As it was more a
folly than a home for living in, the McKennas abandoned it in 1918
and Burke's describes it as "a crazy ruin".
Reginald McKenna was a
British politician and an expert on taxation during the first quarter
of this century.
Trough, County Monaghan, Ireland. The sept of MacCionaith
a fess Argent between three lions' heads affrontee Or.
salmon naiant proper.