‘The McKennas, a brief history’

From:
Clann MacKenna Family History Society – Book 9
Published in
Article No: 33 – Page: 90
From: Private: The Monaghan Story

by Fr. Peadar Livingstone

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MC KENNA (Mac Cionnaith): The county’s 2nd family. The name is so predominant in North Monaghan that local names are used to distinguish different McKenna families, and many of these in turn are inter-related.The present barony of Truagh has been associated with the McKennas for many centuries. It was here that they had their kingdom in the late middle ages, a kingdom which managed to remain independent but which was often a challenge to the MacMahon ascendancy in Monaghan. The ancestors of the McKennas were introduced as swordsmen by the Fir Leamhna of Clogher whose early medieval kingdom included the present Monaghan barony of Truagh.

These McKenna forebears were a branch of the Cenél Fiachach of Meath. They settled in the Truagh part of the Fir Leamhna kingdom. In the twelfth century the Fir Leamhna lost control of the Clogher area to Mac Cathmhaoil family, a branch of the Cenél Foghain. For a short period the Truagh area seems to have passed under the control of the Mac Murchadha, whose kingdom was in the Caledon area of east Tyrone. However, the MacMahons had also designs on the area and they prevailed.

In the centuries which followed, the O’Neills also claimed the allegience of the McKenna but their territory was included in County Monaghan at the end of the sixteenth century. The Last McKenna chieftain was Patrick who was granted two thirds of Truagh in the land settlement of 1591. He was friendly to the English at the beginning of the Nine Years War but after the battle of Clontibret in 1595 he joined Hugh O’Neill and the other Ulster chieftains. Patrick McKenna survived the war and was regranted most of his lands in the 1606 Settlement. He died about 1616 in his home at Tully Lough near Emyvale.

Before his death he had divided his estates among his family. He was succeeded by his son Niall, then a minor, as head of the family The McKennas refused to pay rent to the English for their land and this meant that much of it passed into alien hands even before the 1641 Rising. Niall McKenna was still the head of the family during the Rising and he lived successively at Tully and Portinaghy.

He emigrated to Spain in 1653. John McKenna, a grandson of Patrick, became high-sheriff of Monaghan under James ll. He was executed by the Williamites after the battle of Drumbanagher in 1689.

John’s grandson, William, was called the Bully McKenna. He was a successful farmer and businessman and lived at Aghaninimy in a house which was called Willville where he died in 1816. His son, Don Juan, became a famous general in the Chilean War of Independence. Two of William’s family became nuns, Mother Augustine of the Convent of Mercy, Balmville, New Jersey, and Sister Mary Francis of Dublin. Many other McKennas became prominent in church and state in the last few centuries. James was the celebrated servant of Saint Oliver Plunkett.

Charles McKenna, parish priest of Donagh, was chaplain to the Irish Brigade at Fontenoy in 1745. Sir John, Knight of Alcantara and son of William, the Glaslough distiller, was a general in the Irish Brigade in Spain. Hugh, a student of the Irish College in Paris, saved the College during the Reign of Terror, when it was attacked by a mob.

Many members of the family distinguished themselves in the continental armies during the Penal Days. James was a quartermaster in Clare‘s regiment of the French forces from 1763 to 1776, another James was a sub-lieutenant in Berwick‘s regiment, and yet another James was known as Cavalier of Saint Louis. Francis McKenna was quartermaster in Dillon’s French Regiment from 1814 to 1819. A John McKenna was remembered as the Immortal Colonel in the Ultonia Brigade of the Spanish army which fought at Saragossa in 1709. Dr. Patrick McKenna was a professor of Theology at Maynooth and later bishop of Clogher (1909-’42).


From:
Clann MacKenna Family History Society – Book 9
Published in
Article No: 33 – Page: 90
This volume is still for sale Get Order Form
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