William Kenny (politician)

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William Kenny PC QC (14 January 1846 – 4 February 1921), was an Irish judge and Liberal Unionist politician.

He was born in Dublin, the only son of Edward Kenny, solicitor, of Kilrush, County Clare, and his wife, Catherine (née Murphy). Before he was called to the bar in 1868, he had graduated with a B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin and worked as a clerk in the Census Office.

He married Mary Coffey on 13 August 1873, and they had a family of eight children. He practiced on the Munster Circuit and became a Q.C. in 1885 and a Bencher of the King's Inns in 1890. He was mainly instrumental in establishing the Liberal Union of Ireland after the defeat of the Home Rule Bill of 1886, and in organising the visit of Lord Hartington and George Goschen to Dublin in 1887.

In 1891 Kenny was adopted as unionist candidate in the upcoming General Election. Kenny was returned to Parliament for Dublin St Stephen's Green in the 1892 general election as a unionist over the nationalist candidate, George Noble Plunkett, aka Count Plunkett, whose son, Joseph Mary Plunkett, was a leader in the 1916 Easter Rising. Count Plunkett would later be elected to office as a Sinn Féin member, after the Rising. The Liberal Unionists promoted land reform and peasant land ownership as a means of positively preserving the Union but were opposed strongly to local government. William Kenny corresponded with Lord Hartington to that effect calling Chamberlain's proposed county councils an "awful scheme of provincial councils" and demanding a centralised local government as an alternative.

Kenny served as Solicitor-General for Ireland from 1895 to 1898 in the Unionist administration of Lord Salisbury. In the House of Commons, he joined his cousin Matthew Joseph Kenny, who had been elected as a Parnellite in 1882. In 1895 he sat on the Tourist Committee for Ireland.

In 1898 Kenny was appointed a Judge of the High Court and resigned as Solicitor-General and from his seat in the House of Commons. In 1902 he was sworn of the Irish Privy Council. He remained on the bench until his death at his Dublin residence, Marlfield, Cabinteely, on 4 February 1921, aged 75. His portrait by Sarah Purser hangs in the King's Inns.

Maurice Healy in his memoir The Old Munster Circuit described Kenny as stern and inflexible, lacking in empathy for those poorer than himself, but also a sound and learned lawyer with a strong sense of justice. He also suggests that Kenny's political views made him a somewhat isolated figure, since in the political atmosphere of the 1890s and 1900s, Catholic Unionists were regarded with suspicion.

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Alexander Dickson
Member of Parliament for Dublin St Stephen's Green
18921898
Succeeded by
James Campbell
Legal offices
Preceded by
Charles Hemphill
Solicitor-General for Ireland
1895 – 1898
Succeeded by
Sir Dunbar Plunket Barton