Select Kenny Surname Genealogy

Kenny is an Irish surname, being an anglicization of the Gaelic O’Cionnaith - from Coinneach or Cainnech, an Old Irish personal name borne by a 6th century monk and saint who gave his name to the town of Kilkenny.  An O’Kenny sept later emerged. 

The Kenny surname also appeared in England and Scotland, but from different roots.  Kenny and Kenney are the principal spellings today.

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Select Kenny Ancestry

EnglandThe English origin of Kenny seems to have come from the Norman John de Kenne who held lands in Somerset during the 12th century.   Nicholas Kenne, believed to be a descendant, moved to Ireland in 1472 and married into a Norman family holding lands in Wexford.  One of his descendants, also Nicholas, became General Escheator for Ireland under Queen Elizabeth.  There is little Kenny presence in Somerset today. 

Later Kennys in England were invariably of Irish origin.  A Kenney family from Dublin arrived around in 1800 and ran the Boodles club in London.  James Kenney of this family became a well-known playwright.  His son Charles followed in his father’s footsteps.

Ireland.  An O’Kenny sept
had its roots in Roscommon and Galway, being lords of Muintir Kenny along the Shannon during the 13th century.  By coincidence Kenny was also the name of a prominent English family who had arrived in the area from Wexford in the 17th century and, through extensive intermarriage with Galway families, became important landowners there and in Roscommon. 

As a result there were Kennys on both sides of the religious divide – the Rev. Arthur Kenny, an anti-Catholic controversialist, and the Rev. Peter James Kenny, a Jesuit priest and prominent Catholic preacher.

Roscommon.  Irish Kennys emigrated from Roscommon at the time of the famine or later, particularly from Strokestown.  Many Kennys families dispersed at this time.  Some of them made it to Baltimore, others to Canada.  Still, the Kennys in Ireland today show a significant number remaining in the area.  Patrick Kenny is Chairman of the Famine Museum there today.

Clare.  There were Kennys in county Clare from the early 1700’s, starting with
Edward Kenny, a tenant of the Earl of Thomond at Treanmanagh in Ibracken parish. 

“The story goes that he married Eleanor, the sister of Russian Field Marshal Count Lucy, became a priest after his wife’s death, and died in France.” 

In Clare there was David Kenny of Treanmanagh, his brother James Kenny the Archdeacon of Kilfenora, and their nephew Matthias of Freagh Castle.  Two prominent later Kennys were General Thomas Kelly-Kenny of Treanmanagh and the nationalist leader Matthew Kenny of Freagh Castle.

Kenny can be a Scottish surname, from the Gaelic name Cionaodha.  The name crops up in Angus on the East Coast.  However, Kennys in Scotland today may equally be the result of Irish in-migration. 

.  Kenney is more common then Kenny as a surname in America.  It is not quite clear whether  this reflected the Irish names as they came to America or those that were transcribed for them on arrival.  It is noteworthy that the Kenny/Kenney split was 20/80 in Massachusetts, but roughly 40/60 at other arrival states on the East Coast.

There was a Kenney family of English extraction (originally Kinne or Keney from Norfolk) which came to Massachusetts in the 1600's.  One branch settled in Sutton, Massachusetts in the 1720's.  Sumner Kenney's 19th century house there is still standing.  Thomas Kenney of this family was a captain in the War of 1812 and received a land grant in Illinois.  

General George C. Kenney of World War Two fame grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts.  His family genealogy was narrated in Roland W. Kenney's 1973 book The Ancestors of General George C. Kenney.

Early Kennys elsewhere were:
  • James Barnett Kenney who was born in Augusta county, Virginia in 1752 from Irish parents.  He fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards took up new farming land in Bourbon county, Kentucky.  His son Moses moved to Illinois where he founded the township of Kenney, Illinois.
  • Charles Kenny who arrived from Donegal in 1791 and settled in Chester county, Pennsylvania.  His son Thomas was a farmer and coal merchant in Mifflin township.  
  • and Cornelius Kenney who came from Clare in 1829 and settled in Rochester, New York.  His son, also named Cornelius, was a tea and coffee merchant in Baltimore, whose business became the basis for the present-day Sara Lee company.
Canada.  Kennys started arriving in Canada in the 1820’s, coming to the Maritime provinces, Quebec and Ontario (notably to Gatineau and the Ottawa valley). 

One Kenny who made the most of his new country was Edward Kenny.  Born in rural poverty in Kerry, he moved to Cork and then, in the employ of a merchant there, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He and his brother started their own wholesaling business in 1828 which prospered.   By the 1860's Edward was thought to be the second richest man in Nova Scotia and "
Papa” Kenny ranked as a leading figure in Halifax society.

Australia and New Zealand.  Early Kennys in Australia were convicts, including:
  • John and James Kenny from Carlow who were arrested in Cork and transported to Sydney in 1793
  • Charles Kenny from Roscommon who was transported there in 1821 for sedition and treason, his crime being "opposing the English occupation in Ireland."  His wife and children followed him there three years later.
  • and Eugene Kenny from Kerry who was brought to Australia in 1827.  He eventually made his home at Ravenscroft in Eccleston, NSW.
Michael Kenny arrived in South Australia from county Clare in 1842.  He moved to the Eyre Peninsula where he was one of the first farmers to grow grain rather than to raise sheep.  Port Kenny there was named after him. 

Another Michael Kenny came to Brisbane from Kilkenny in 1862.  He married Mary Moore in Inverell, NSW in 1872.  Their fourth child Elizabeth joined the Australian Army Nursing Service during World War One.  Sister Kenny really made her name during the interwar years for her novel approach, subsequently validated, for the treatment of polio sufferers.  Her uplifting story was told in Victor Cohn’s 1975 book Sister Kenny

The early Kennys in New Zealand seem to have come via the British army.  David Courteney Kenny from Galway had enlisted in the early 1800’s and gone to India.  A later Kenny came to New Zealand in 1856 and settled in Marlborough district, SI after having been wounded in the Crimean War.  Colonel Nepean Kenny came to the same area in 1864.  His daughter was the writer Alice Annie Kenny.

Select Kenny Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Kenny Names

James Kenney was a popular playwright in England in the early 19th century.  He came from an Irish family.
Peter James Kenney
was the Jesuit priest who founded Clongowes Wood College and was a prominent Catholic preacher in Ireland during the 19th century.
John Kenny
was the long-time President of Clanna-Gael in New York, an organization which supplied support to the rebels in Ireland, culminating in the Easter Rising.
George C. Kenney was commander of the Allied Air Forces in the SW Pacific during World War Two.
Enda Kenny is the leader of Fine Gael, Ireland’s second largest political party.
Pat Kenny
is a popular Irish radio broadcaster with RTE.

Select Kennys Today
  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts) 
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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