P. D. Kenny


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P. D. Kenny [ 1862 - 1944 ]

Patrick Dermot Kenny was born in Lismagansion, Aghamore in 1862. As a child he attended Doogarry National School. Like so many Irish before and after him, while still a teenager he went to work in England. Later on he began to further his education with help from (amongst others) Michael Davitt, the great Mayo born politician and author. P.D. later studied in Manchester.

Afterwards he worked as a journalist in Glasgow and subsequently became editor of the Newcastle Daily. Moving to Brighton he became literary critic for the prestigious Saturday Review where he worked and befriended the famous Winston Churchill.

On the death of his parents P.D. returned to Aghamore to farm the family holding and he immersed himself in the 'new' scientific methods of agriculture and horticulture. However, he continued his writing with contributions to various newspapers and journals. Some of his articles in The Irish Times were published in booklet form in 1902 under the title Connacht Ranging, Sealy Bryers and Walker, Dublin and Walter Scott, London.

Books: How to Prevent Strikes, J. Hayward, Manchester, 1894. Economics for Irishmen, Dublin, Maunsel, 1904. Official Philosophy: A Criticism of Co-operation in Ireland, Navan, 1905. The Sorrows of Ireland, Dublin, Maunsel, 1907. My Little Farm, Dublin, Maunsel, 1915. Five Years of Irish Freedom, Henry J. Drane, 1927.

At the request of W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, he chaired the Abbey Theatre debate on Synge's controversial drams The Playboy of the Western World. On hearing their decision to appoint him as chairman P.D. professed to be most surprised since he felt that he himself was "surely the most unpopular man in all Ireland".

He certainly was unpopular among many segments of Irish society. An interesting and enigmatic figure he became involved frequently in political and ecclesiastical controversies and in various court cases.

He died in 1944 and is buried in Aghamore cemetery where a fine headstone now adorns his grave.
The Kenny genealogy has been studied at some length.

Additional Information

P. D. Kenny's early journalistic work appreared in newspapers which are no longer in print.

However, the Newcastle Daily Chronicle [13th January 1864 - 29th July 1922], continued as Newcastle Daily Chronicle, North Mail [31st July 1922 - 16th March 1923], and the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art [3rd Nov 1855 - 23rd July 1922] are held by the British Library Newspaper Library.

The British Library Newspaper Library catalogue is available on the Internet - Newspaper Archive.

 

The Late P. D. Kenny, Author and Journalist by Tom Kennedy, Carnmore, Aghamore.

[First printed in the Western People on 15th July 1944]

with additional comment by Paul W. D. Rogers, Chairman, Kenny/Naughton Autumn School

I watched the mortal remains of P.D. Kenny, better known in the literary world as "Pat", laid to rest here in the little bleak cemetery of Aghamore. The "savage earth" was blessed by the Rev. Father Heaney, who paid tribute in a few kind words: "Personally, I must say I'm very sorry for P.D. Kenny. If he were what he might have been it might be better; but if he has done anything wrong I think he's not responsible and I believe he's with God in heaven." A voice broke in: "I wish to add to that Father. Mr Kenny was an honest man, he did good things. I wish I had his chance with God." Those words were spoken by farmer "Pa" Jordan, Aghamore.

Mr Kenny had a distinguished literary career. At sixteen he crossed the Irish Sea to work as a farm labourer in the Chesire districts. One day a man heard him speak from a platform. "Who's the young lad?" he asked. On learning he was Irish he became interested and pushed forward to speak to him; but on learning he came from Mayo, and only a farm labourer, he became by nature lovingly attached. He said to the lad: "Meet me tomorrow in Manchester at two o'clock." They met, and the result was a job as a traveler for a Manchester firm for the young lad. The man whom the lad had impressed by his oratory was none other than the famous Michael Davitt. He met Davitt some years afterwards in Bury for the second time, where he had the honour to preside for him at a Land League meeting.

An industrious will, a thirst for knowledge, and some money saved from commission on his new job gave the young man access to a Manchester University, where after a three years' course, he attracted some attention by his talent for economics.

At twenty two he edited a newspaper in Glasgow. Shortly after we find him on the staff of the Morning Post, on which paper also was a young reporter, Winston Churchill. Finally came his literary triumph on being admitted to the staff of "The Saturday Review." Here he wrote some brilliant criticisms on the drama; he had special praise for a young unknown playwright called Bernard Shaw. Dining with lords and ladies today, with Fleet Street celebrities tomorrow; a home in Brighton by the sea, life must have been for him, in and out of London, one continual time of enjoyment and success.

He had a thousand literary anecdotes, one of which I might recall here. When the Abbey Theatre "Playboy" riots were growing rather serious, the directors, in a novel way, offered the theatre as a free house for all to come to discuss with them in friendly terms the prejudices of the play; to decide if they were to continue the staging of the play by taking a vote from the audience. The directors looked around in search of a chairman: they couldn't find one, so Lady Gregory began to think. She sent a letter with a messenger inviting "Pat" - he was living in Dublin at the time - to come and dine with her. Yeats was invited too. At table Lady Gregory said "You're just the man we want, Mr Kenny." "But," returned "Pat", "you know, I'm the most unpopular man in all Ireland. What about the Lord Mayor?" ("Pat" never knew that he had refused.) Lady Gregory was persistent - "We'd rather you instead. You must come." Prompting by Yeats, who always wished to please Lady Gregory induced "Pat" to preside. And it was a night of nights. Synge trembled, Yeats frowned, Lady Gregory smiled before a full house. "Pat" took the chair. From the back came cries and shouts. Some were flung in Irish. "Pat" answered back in Irish. "Be gob here's a man who knows Irish himself," cried one of the hecklers, rising to his feet. "Pat's" Irish cast a spell over the rioters and the meeting continued without further interruptions. The directors got a majority to retain "The Playboy of the Western World".

After his reading, a short time ago of George Moore's "Confessions of a Young Man", a book very much spoiled by peevish and heretical strains I heard him say: "I'm sorry to have read that book. You know it was George Moore introduced me to the editor of "The Saturday Review". As far as I can see the author is aiming at the destruction of the human race - he has touched on biology, a subject he knows nothing at all about. And "Pat" rounded off the paradox, "It's a great loss to English literature that George Moore hadn't some education."

He spent his later years here in Aghamore, living as a hermit.

And now what is my opinion of P.D. Kenny, the man? I regretfully write that I found him rather vain and extremely anti-national; that he had no time even for a beautiful character like Robert Emmet, or for John Mitchel, whose "Jail Journal" has not been excelled, of its kind, in any literature, a book with artistic touches rising to the condition of music. In discussing national affairs his mind was always a satirical bitterness and caricature, which in the end always defeat themselves.

Yes, it is to be regretted that this man of letters could never learn to love his country - a man who met and shared company with four Irishmen - Synge, George Moore, Yeats and Bernard Shaw, who have set Irish genius and romance a shining star among the beautiful things in English literature.

"Pat" has passed away quietly and his literary friends shall miss him sorely.

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P. D. Kenny was a complicated enigmatic character, undoubtedly something of an oddity, but also a man before his time in many ways. His scientific attitude to agriculture and horticulture, advocating drainage, quality cattle, crop rotation, tree planting, etc., professed in detail in his book My Little Farm (1915), was so advanced as to apply more fittingly to modern-day farming. Strongly held opinions on perceived clerical interference in lay matters, something that contributed hugely to the incident which lead to his ejection from Aghamore church on 13th March 1910, would not cause concern today! P. D. Kenny was many things and experienced much in his colourful career. He was on the one hand, as David Rose of the Oscar Wilde School asserts, "A useful commentator", an opinion no doubt formed from a study of Kenny's critiques in The Saturday Review and other journals. Naturally I am compelled to agree but feel that there is ample evidence in Kenny's books to suggest that he possessed a great talent, a talent which could have been channeled towards more creative writing. His books give us a glimpse of the genius that might have caused the name "Pat" to trip off every tongue:

After ages of service and pain,
With her mark on the world and her failure at home,
In the door of the Empire we have Erin still doubting,
The smile looking out and the tear looking in,
From a retrospect rare in its beauty
And bravery, hope and romance;
Still distrusting herself and distrusted for that,
Making fetters of freedom, and crimes of caprice;
Esteemed for her follies, and cursed by her virtues,
While nursing her vices, unaware of her strength.

Will she ever come in? - She can never go out;
And her destiny rests in destruction or friendship,
The choice leaving no room for doubt.
I could lie to her lovingly, trade on her tenderly,
Market her anguish, and live on her cheers;
But I tell her the truth and I ask her for nothing,
Unless to live on and serve her as truly
As she has served all but her own.

Prologue from Sorrows of Ireland (1907)

Why did he take the course of action that took him away from a successful literary career in Britain and reduced him eventually to relative poverty and a lonely death? Kenny tells us in My Little Farm;

"after fifteen years in the Strand writing, writing, writing, I had produced little or nothing for more than a day's notice, though feeling that I could do something better. I wanted to write, really, in books, what I thought, instead of writing in newspapers, what other people pretended to think."

Studying the works of Kenny will give much pleasure and we in the Kenny/Naughton school welcome enquiries from students of open-minded thought. The story of "Pat" is a fascinating one of epic proportion and much satisfaction will be gained from familiarizing oneself with the works of the man who claimed to be the only man he knew in Ireland who was not a genius. The philosophy of P.D. Kenny might be summed up by saying that, for him, the basis of all progress was freedom of thought and expression; he wrote;

"Given freedom, character follows; given character, progress follows; given progress, the greatness of Ireland follows."

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Extract from "Patrick Cafferkey N.T. & P.C. by Joe Coen, which was published in the Doogarry N.S. Reunion booklet (2003).

Cafferkey returned again and he was in poor health so he decided to make his will and who better that his old pupil P.D. Kenny to draw it up. Ned Taylor was to be one of the witnesses amd he was there in good time. To try to keep Cafferkey alive until P.D. arrived, the housekeeper had put down a great fire of turf in the room where the old man lay in bed. For once, the old master was silent, except for an occasional groan and Ned expected that he would die at any moment.

Meanwhile, the fire blazed up the chimney and , when P.D. arrived, complete with cycling cape, the bog-deal lintel across the fireplace was blazing out of control. P.D. dropped his cape and called for a spade, and perhaps he remembered all the strong men of the Kenny family, and he made a wild assault on the blazing chimney with the spade. Unfortunately, the spade glanced off the chimney and dug into the layers of whitewash and dead mortar over Mr. Cafferkey's head. As a result, a great breach of debris fell on top of the sick man, and to add to this, P.D. lost his balance and he too fell in on top of Mr. Cafferkey.

Like a flash the old master sprang out of bed and proceeded to warn P.D. that three months in Sligo jail awaited him, for his impudence and for attempting to murder a man in his own bed.

Hastily, and with as much dignity as he could muster in the circumstances, P.D. collected his cape and bicycle and retreated back up the road from whence he had come. For an instant the old master stood still, and then he grabbed the spade and followed P.D. up the road. Being barefooted and dressed only in a long white shirt, he was making good progress, but somehow P.D. climbed onto his machine and once he got over the hill at the old lime kilm he began to gain some ground on his pursuer.

Feeling that perhaps it was time for him also to depart, Ned moved slowly out on to the road with his bicycle. He took one last long look at the retreating party, and then he too mounted his machine and pedelled slowly in the opposite direction. His rounded and flushed countenance bore the look of absolute satisfaction. His small wary eyes the beamed out from under the peak of his cap gave just a faint flicker of a smile.

 

Tim Duffy's Oration at P. D. Kenny's Grave [24th October 1993]. (Tim Duffy is a grand nephew of P. D.'s)

People of Aghamore, I feel it a great honour and a privilege to be here today to unveil this memorial to my late granduncle P. D. Kenny. I have quite a number of my relations and relatives here from Kerry, from Sligo, Kiltimagh, Castlebar and I would also like to mention those who are absent in America, England and South Africa, and I would like to thank all the organising committee here that I will make reference to at a later stage.

I have a very vivid recollection of P.D. Kenny. I was a young lad at the time, and I have recollections of him coming to our home, to our house in Kilkelly on various visits, and he usually had a few bags of strawberries, or possibly a few bags of rhubarb. One very vivid recollection of P. D. Kenny was his remains, overboard in a little hut on his farm at Lismagansion, I think it was on the 2nd July 1944. I was eleven years at the time so everybody knows my age now. I remember P. D.'s remains being brought direct from that hut here to the cemetery at Aghamore, and I think it is ironic that here today, we are paying a tribute to P. D. Kenny on consecrated ground.

Thank God I might add that, almost fifty years later a more Christian and a more tolerant attitude prevails than at that time, and I say Thank God for that.

No doubt everybody is aware he had his problems. He was mighty with the pen, he may have insulted, he may have hurt a lot of people's feelings in his writings but many people will say he was possibly fifty years before his time. We better leave that judgement to other people.

As we all know, throughout his career his contributions to the literary field were enormous, and in this regard I would like to include the writings of the late Bill Naughton too. I have had the pleasure of being at the opening on Friday night, and I could honestly say East Mayo, not just Aghamore, can be justly proud of their contribution.

In completion, I would like to thank an excellent organising committee who worked so hard, I believe, here since August to make this weekend such a success. I hate dropping names because you see the committee there on the booklets but, I think in fairness, I have to mention one man and that is Mr. Joe Byrne and his wife Patricia, and the outstanding contribution by the committee here. Also to mention the co-ordinators Catherine Muldowney and Mary Donnelly also FÁS and others who I think are listed, incuding Bernie Prendergast who prepared the portraits on the booklets.

I think that is all I have to say. At this stage I would like to unveil this memorial which you will observe is limestone rock taken from Aghamore, excellently sculpted by John Wimsey. I think it's significant to mention the limestone. It would be very dear to P. D.'s heart as a man that worked the land. Apart from his literary traits he also had a great interest in agriculture and horticulture. May I also mention that I understand the rock has been supplied from a quarry here, Harrington's in Aghamore parish.

That is all I have to say, people, friends of Aghamore, my own relations. Thank you very sincerely to everyone concerned for giving me this small opportunity of paying tribute to my late granduncle.

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