Matthew Joseph Kenny

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Matthew Joseph Kenny (1 February 1861 – 8 December 1942) was an Irish lawyer and Nationalist politician from County Clare. He was elected to the United Kingdom House of Commons at the age of 21, qualified as a barrister whilst still a member of parliament (MP), and later became a judge in the Irish Free State.

Early life[edit]

Kenny was born at Freaghcastle, near Milltown Malbay in County Clare, to the solicitor Michael Kenny and his wife Bridget, née Frost.[1] The family were major landholders.[2][3]

He attended Ennis College an Erasmus Smith school,.[4][5] Thom's Irish Who's Who states he attended Stonyhurst,[6] and Trinity College, Dublin,.[6] This seems to be incorrect and all other contemporary sources confirm that he in fact attended Ennis School and Queen's Univ.[4] While serving at Westminster, he was called to the bar at Gray's Inn in 1886 and at the King's Inns, Dublin, in 1889. In 1899 he went bankrupt and his estates were sold off.[7] He became a King's Counsel in 1914.

Political career[edit]

Kenny was just 21 years of age when he was selected as the Home Rule League candidate for a by-election for Ennis in November 1882.

Ennis's Home Rule MP Lysaght Finigan had resigned his seat on 15 September 1882, owing to ill-health.[8] According to Kieran Sheedy's The Clare Elections (p. 269),

According to Hugh Weir's Houses of Clare (1999, p. 131), Kenny was the youngest Member of Parliament at the time.

The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 abolished Ennis's separate parliamentary representation, with effect from the 1885 general election. The former two-seat Clare county constituency was divided for parliamentary purposes was split into the new single-member constituencies of East Clare and West Clare with one member to be elected in each division. Kenny did contest either of the new Clare seats, standing instead in Mid Tyrone, where he was elected.[10] However he continued to interest himself in political developments in Clare.[citation needed]

Kenny held the Mid-Tyrone seat from 1885–95.[11] When the Irish Parliamentary Party split in 1890, he opposed Parnell.[12] Indeed, he suffered a black eye at the hands of a Parnellite member Pierce Mahony.[13]

Kenny retired from political life in 1895 and apart from his activities as a breeder of pedigree horses, cattle and sheep devoted himself to the practice of law.

In 1887, he married Elizabeth Robertson Stewart, daughter of W. R. Stewart, of Lairsill or Lairdshill, Aberdeenshire. They had two sons and two daughters.

He was appointed Senior Crown Prosecutor for County Kerry in 1916, and was appointed circuit court judge for Cork City and County in 1925,[14] retiring in 1933 . Maurice Healy notes that his term of office had been extended due to the universal respect in which he was held.

The Irish Times of 6 October 1941 published Matthew Kenny's memories of Charles Stewart Parnell to mark the 50th anniversary of the latter's death.

Matthew Kenny, initially a Parnellite M.P., was a cousin of William Kenny, a Liberal Unionist M.P. The two cousins' tenures on opposite sides in the House of Commons overlapped between 1892 and 1895. Both were descended from Mathias Kenny of Treanmanagh, Kilmurry Ibricken and Dysert, Dysert, Co. Clare.[15]

Maurice Healy in his memoirs describes Matthew Kenny with great affection as a judge of exceptional dignity and integrity who was universally liked and respected; his fault, if it was a fault, was the severity of his sentences in criminal cases.[16]


  1. ^ Clare Journal, 4 February 1861.
  2. ^ "Kenny (Freagh Castle)". Landed Estates Database. Moore Institute, NUI Galway. Retrieved 28 November 2009. 
  3. ^ The Landed Estates database appears to have confused the landholdings of Matthew Kenny the barrister with those of his older second cousin once removed Matthew Kenny, a solicitor who practised in Ennis and Dublin, and who acquired an estate at Clooniff in county Galway.
  4. ^ a b Debrett's House of Commons, 1886.
  5. ^ Cecil S Kenny, "Genealogies of Kenny and Lysaght", NLI 1915
  6. ^ a b Thom's Irish Who's Who 1923, p.123.
  7. ^ notice of Auction 1899 as directed by the bankruptcy court, OAC Archive
  8. ^ Department of Information Services (9 June 2009). "Appointments to the Chiltern Hundreds and Manor of Northstead Stewardships since 1850" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 June 2010. Retrieved 23 June 2009. 
  9. ^ Department of Information Services. 1879/parnellcommissio00russuoft_djvu.txt "Parnell Commission" Check |url= value (help). House of Commons Library. 
  10. ^ Brian M. Walker, ed. (1978). Parliamentary election results in Ireland 1801–1922. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. p. 135. ISBN 0-901714-12-7. 
  11. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs
  12. ^ Ferguson, King's Inns Barristers 1868–2004, p.72.
  13. ^ New York Times, 25 January 1893.
  14. ^ Irish Times, 26 August 1925.
  15. ^ Kenny, Cecil S., "Genealogies of Kenny and Lysaght" Manuscript, NLI, Dublin 1915
  16. ^ Healy, Maurice The Old Munster Circuit Michael Joseph Ltd. London 1939

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Lysaght Finigan
Member of Parliament for Ennis
1882 – 1885
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Mid-Tyrone
Succeeded by
George Murnaghan