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MCKENNA Family History
Mac Cionaoith, also Mac Cionaodha- anglicised MacKenna, MacKenny, Kenny, earlier as M'Kinna &c. meaning 'son of Cineadh', a name which, according to Ó Corráin/Maguire, may well be a borrowing into Old Irish from Pictish. The meaning is unknown. As a first name its modern form is Kenneth.
The main family were of the Southern Uí Néill and were chieftains of the territory of Trough in the north of the modern County Monaghan. It may well be, that like other septs of the Southern Uí Néill, Ó Scolaidhe (Scully), Ó Ciardha (Carey) &c., they spread into other parts of Ireland after the Norman invasions of the 12th century. There was also a family in Co Roscommon who were 'clients' of the O Connors. According to Woulfe ('Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall', 1923) the surname is also to be found in the Munster counties of Kerry, Cork and Limerick.
In William Petty's 1659 'Census' of Ireland (which it must be stressed is both incomplete and erratic), the following names are found in those listed by Petty as 'Principal Irish Names':
Co Monaghan has no occurrences of the name in the 'Census'.
Roscommon Barony, McKeny & Kenny, 11 families; Athlone Barony, Keny & Kenny, 6 families. There may be some confusion here with Ó Cionaoith, a fairly powerful and numerous sept of Co Roscommon, whose name would be etymologically identical to that of McKenna.
Co Kerry has no occurrences of the name in the 'Census'.
Kinalmeaky Barony, Conow, 9 families - in Munster the last syllable was stressed, giving modern variant Kennaw. McCnoghor/McCnohor/Cnohor occur in large numbers in this Census in several baronies in Co Cork etc., eg. Kinalea, McCnohor & Cnohor Oge (junior), 21 families; Carbery West, McCnoughor, 66 families.
No obvious examples found in the 'Census' for Co Limerick.
By the mid 19th century, and Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' of households in Ireland, the name McKenna is to be found mostly in counties Monaghan 758, Tyrone 366, Derry 215, Louth 128 and Armagh 123. The total McKenna households were 2192.
In the same document McKenny is principally found in counties Donegal 64, Down 43 and Tyrone 42. Total McKenny is 285.
The Registrar General's 'Special Report...' (1894) on surname distribution, based on birth registrations in 1890, sows most occurrences of McKenna in counties Antrim, Monaghan, Tyrone, Kerry and Armagh.
Two famous McKennas:
Bernard J. McKenna (1843-1903) who served as Mayor of his hometown, Pittsburgh, from 1893-1896, became a Labor Union Leader in the iron industry after returning home from the Civil War.
Thomas Patrick McKenna (1929-2011) Irish actor, known as T.P. McKenna, had a long and celebrated career, appearing in films such as Ulysses (1967), Straw Dogs (1971) and Portrait of the Artist (1977) as well as many TV productions in the U.K. and Ireland, eg Callan (1972), Crown Court (1974-82) and Scarlet and Black (1993).