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.

Kenny Resources on

Kenny Ancestry

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
Wexford. One of his descendants, also
Nicholas, became General Escheator for Ireland under Queen Elizabeth. There is little Kenny presence in Somerset

Later Kennys in England were
invariably of Irish origin. A Kenney family from Dublin
around in 1800 and ran the Boodles club in London.
James Kenney of this family became a
well-known playwright. His son Charles
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
and, through extensive intermarriage with Galway families, became
landowners there and in Roscommon.

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

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

Clare there was

David Kenny of
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.

Scotland. 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.

America. 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
    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
Quebec and Ontario (notably to Gatineau and the Ottawa valley).

One Kenny who made the most of his
new country was Edward
. 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.

arrived in South Australia from county Clare in 1842. He moved to
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.

Michael Kenny came to Brisbane from Kilkenny in 1862. He married Mary
Moore in
Inverell, NSW in 1872. Their fourth child Elizabeth joined the
Army Nursing Service during World War One. Sister Kenny really
made her
name during the interwar years for her novel approach, subsequently
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
from Galway had enlisted in the early 1800’s and gone to India. A
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.

Kenny Miscellany

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

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.

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)



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