Kennedy History

The ancestor of the O’Kennedys was Kennedy, nephew of Brian Boru, or Cinneide in Irish, the resultant surname being O Cinneide (Brian Boru’s father was Cinneide). They are thus a Dalcassian sept, and at first their territory was around Glenomra near Killaloe Co Clare, and their occupation is perpetuated by the name of the civil parish comprising that area, Killokennedy, but pressure from the powerful O’Briens and MacNamaras caused them to cross the Shannon and settle in Upper and lower Ormond. There they soon increased in power and importance, and from the eleventh to the sixteenth century they were lords of Ormond. The sept divided into three branches, the chiefs of which were distinguished by the epithets Don (brown), Fionn (fair) and Rua (red). The Four Masters record the martial exploits of many of these chiefs. According to Keating, St. Ruadhan of Lorrha was the special protector of the O’Kennedys of Ormond. A branch of the sept emigrated to Antrim about the year 1600, and the name is found in that county now, though, no doubt, some of the Ulster Kennedys are of Scottish origin, for Kennedy is also a Scots name.

Kennedy, indeed, is one of the commonest names in Ireland, being widely distributed over all the provinces, with a preponderance in Co. Tipperary: it is placed sixteenth in the statistical list of Irish surnames with an estimated present day population of some eighteen thousand persons. Unlike most Irish surnames Kennedy has few synonyms in English: one, however, still found in Co. Leitrim is interesting, viz. Minnagh, I.e. Muimhneach – or the Munster man (cf. Donlevy – Ultagh). Kennedy became Quenedy in Spanish, for, like all the great Irish families, many of the sept found their way to the continent. Matthew Kennedy (1652-1735), who went to France after the capitulation of Limerick in 1691, was a notable literary figure in Paris: he was remarkable for his life-long enthusiasm for the Irish language.

At home the O’Kennedys, though remaining Catholic, were not entirely submerged as a result of the successive conquests and confiscations of the seventeenth century: an Order of the Lord Lieutenant, dated 30th March, 1705, granting permission to a few selected papists to carry arms, including eight gentlemen of Co. Tipperary, and among them is John Kennedy of Polnorman. In more modern times the name has been less prominent than might be expected having regard to its numerical strength. It furnished sensational news in 1779 through the famous abduction case of the two Miss Kennedys of Co. Waterford. In the same century Rev. John Kennedy, a Presbyterian minister, made a useful contribution to social history by keeping an interesting diary (1724-1730) describing his many duties in Ulster. Another author was Patrick Kennedy (1801-1873); while, also in the field of literature, Patrick John Kennedy (1843-19069), was a well-known Irish-American Catholic publisher. In our own day a brilliant lawyer, Hugh Kennedy (1879-1936), was first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State.

No mention was made of that small O’Kennedy sept which was one of the Ui Maine or Hy Many group located in Connacht (of the same stock as the O’Dorceys or Darcys and O’Loughnans), because it was of minor importance especially having regard to the numerical strength of the Ormond O’Kennedys and the power and prominence of their chiefs. The latter were descended from Cinneide, nephew of Brian Boru, the greatest of the kings of independent Ireland, who was killed at Clontarf in 1014 during the battle which finally destroyed the power of the Norsemen (or Danes as they are often called) in Ireland.