Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

James/Seamus Kenny 1884-1953

James Kenny was born at High Street Cross, Belmont in 1884 to Teresa and James Kenny senior. The Kenny family operated a shop and drapery.

Moving to Dublin, James Kenny worked as a draper’s assistant in Todd Burns Department store on the corner of May’s Street and Jervis Street (The site is now occupied by the flagship Pennys/Primark store). James’s cousin Kieran from Banagher also worked in Todd Burns. In 1911 they were sharing a house on Reubens Street/Ushers Quay with James’s sister Mary.

James Kenny joined the Irish Volunteers on their formation in November 1913. Kieran Kenny also joined the joined up at this time and later fought in the Easter Rising. James was a member of ‘B’ company 4th Battalion operating from the Plunkett property at Larkfield, Kimmage. He was later sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood by Enniskillen born George Irvine.

In July 1914, a cargo of German Arms was landed at Howth onboard the Asgard. Kenny was among a large force of volunteers under Eamon Ceannt who transported these rifles and ammunition back to Dublin.

In September 1914, the movement spilt after Home Rule leader John Redmond called on volunteers to back the British war effort and where possible enlist for active service. Kenny supported the Irish Volunteer group headed by Eoin MacNeill which opposed recruitment. The spilt also allowed members of the IRB military council more control within the Volunteers which they exploited to plan a rebellion.

Promoted to Battalion Quarter Master, Kenny purchased rifles from British service men, acquired pikes from Domhnall Ua Buachalla in Maynooth and in the run up to the Easter Rising managed the distribution of homemade hand grenades. When volunteers from Britain began to arrive at Larkfield in late 1915, he was charged with provisioning the Kimmage Garrison.

Present at Larkfield on Easter Sunday morning, he mobilised once again on Easter Monday and deployed at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery…

‘We took over the distillery on Monday morning. The fighting started right from the minute we went in and it continued through the whole week. We were surrounded there, and Cork Street had special policemen.’ (1)

Following the general surrender Kenny and Joe McGrath escaped from Marrowbone Lane and hid out to avoid internment. Kenny concealed himself in the coal shed of his sister’s home, before leaving the city and returning Belmont by train.

On the formation of a Belmont company in 1917 he helped to drill the volunteers. He took no part in the Civil War but on returning to Dublin in July 1923 he was advised to join the National Army to ensure a pension and served in the Quartermasters department until November that year.

Kenny continued to live in the capital for many years but returned to High Street in later life. He passed away in October 1953 and was buried with full military honours at Clonmacnoise, the last resting place of his cousin Kieran and neighbour Patrick McDonnell, fellow veterans of the Easter Rising

In 1966, GAA president Alf Murray unveiled a 1916 memorial and addressed the 50th anniversary commemoration for South and West Offaly which was held at Clonmacnoise in recognition of the three Easter veterans interred there.

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work on James Kenny and Belmont in the revolutionary decade carried out by Padraig Heavin.


Sources:

Bureau of Military History Statements. Seamus Kenny Witness 141. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Military Service Pension Collection. James Kenny 24SP1521. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

J.F. Burke. The Midland Tribune 1916-1966 supplement online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Supplement-1966.pdf

Padraig Heaney ‘On the banks of three rivers: Stories from West Offaly’ (Cork) 2015.

Padraig Heaney. ‘West Offaly and the 1916 Rising’ In Offaly Heritage 9 edited by Ciaran Reilly. (Tullamore) 2016.

Dr. Philip McConway. ‘Offaly’s links to the 1916 Rising’. Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkEiuHJc8J0

Military Service Pension Collection. Online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online- collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

Irish Independent 15 October 1953. 26 April 1966.

Midland Tribune. 17 October 1952.

1 Bureau of Military History Statements. James Kenny Witness 141. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

(1) Bureau of Military History Statements. Seamus Kenny Witness 141. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

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