Kenny Story

Ballinrobe, County Mayo, Ireland

by Grahame and Rosslyn Thom


It is said that Thomas Kenny of Ballinrobe, County Mayo, Ireland, is descended from a French family named Du Quesne.  Huguenots from France by this name lived in London in the 16th and 17th century and Du Quesne is pronounced “Du Cane or Ken” .  So it is possible that a descendant settled in Ireland in the mid 17th century and took the name Kenny.

Who were the Huguenots?  The origin of the word is obscure, but it was the name given in the 16th century to the Protestants in France.  The impact of the Protestant Reformation was felt throughout Europe in the early 16th Century.  Its greatest protagonists were Martin Luther in Germany and Jean Calvin in France.  Calvinism penetrated all ranks of French society, especially the literate craftsmen in the towns and the French nobility.  Small numbers of refugees avoiding persecution by the French Catholics came to Ireland, mainly via England, from 1620 to 1641, and again with Cromwell in 1649.

In the 17th century, religious persecution in France increased and about 50,000 French Huguenots came to England, with perhaps about 10,000 moving on to Ireland.  Today there are many inhabitants in Ireland who have Huguenot blood in their veins, whether or not they still bear one of the hundreds of French names of those who took refuge.  The Huguenots were on the whole welcomed in England and Ireland.

Burke’s Irish Family Records lists Thomas Kenny as the son of a Kenny settler (c1660) who married the daughter of an Englishman John Gray .  On 20 October 1698 Thomas married Frances Courtney daughter of David Courtney.  David was the son of the Rev John Courtney MA, Rector of Ballinrobe .  Thomas died on 11 December 1725 and Frances on 25 February 1766 in Ballinrobe.

In those days Ballinrobe was a market and post-town, and a parish, in the barony of Kilmaine, County of Mayo, and the province of Connaught, 23 kilometres south east  from Castlebar, and 186 kilometres north west from Dublin.

Ballinrobe is one of the oldest towns in County Mayo.  Established as a borough in the wake of the Norman conquest of the thirteenth century, this beautiful historic town is bordered by Cong to the south, Lough Mask to the west, and Lough Carra and Moore Hall to the north.

A recent archaeological survey of Ballinrobe and district identified a wealth of sites and monuments dating back to the neolithic and early bronze age, including crannogs, ringforts, souterains, fulachta fiadh, standing stones, and a variety of burial sites such as cysts, barrows, hedges, and two very impressive cairns associated with the Battle of Moytura.

Evidence of early Christian and medieval times can be seen in the remains of the various churches and town houses in the locality. Of particular significance is the 14th century Augustinian Priory of Ballinrobe.  A monastery for friars of the order of St. Augustine was founded here some time prior to 1337, in which year it is mentioned in the registry of the Dominican friary of Athenry, under the name of the monastery de Roba.  The Holy Rood church in Ballinrobe was erected on the site of a 7th century church.

The town is situated on the River Robe, from which it derives its name, and on the road from Hollymount to Cong.  It consists of one principal street, from which others diverge.  The surrounding scenery, particularly towards Lough Mask is very pretty; the mountains of Joyce’s country rising in the distance on the west side of the lake, and the east side being embellished with numerous handsome demesnes.

Thomas and Frances Kenny appear to have had only one son Courtney who was born on 14 April 1702, probably at Ballinrobe.  Courtney married Eliza Thompson on 11 April 1726 but Eliza died on 6 August 1731 not having had any children.  Courtney then married Anne, the daughter of the Rev John Rogers of County Down on 29 September 1731.  Courtney was a Captain Lieutenant in Col. Cuff’s Regiment of Militia Dragoons and lived at Roxburgh, Ballinrobe.  Roxburgh (also spelt Roxborough and today Rocksborough) is several kilometres north east of Ballinrobe.

Courtney and Anne had the following children:-

    Frances born 5 July 1733
    Thomas born 11 October 1734
    Courtney born 29 November 1736
    Hannah born 23 June 1737, died 25 September 1737
    Ann born 17 June 1738, died 28 September 1738
    A son born 8 July 1739, died November 1739
    John born 5 June 1740
    George born 19 January 1741
    Ann born 12 February 1742
    Hannah b 11 January 1743
    Elizabeth born 20 November 1744
    Mildred died an infant

Courtney died at Ballinrobe on 17 September 1779 and Anne died at Ballinrobe on 5 December 1782.

Their eldest son, Thomas Kenny, born 11 October 1734, lived at Roxburgh, Ballinrobe and on 12 January 1757 he married Eliza the daughter of the Very Rev William Crowe DD, Dean of Clonfert and his wife Emila.  Emila was the daughter of the Right Honourable George Evans PC of Bulgadon Hall, County Limerick, see chapter 2.

Thomas and Eliza had the following children, all probably born at Roxburgh, Ballinrobe between 1757 and 1775.

    Eyre Evans Crowe
    David Crowe
    Courtney Crowe

Thomas died 22 October 1812 and Eliza on 29 July 1814, probably at Ballinrobe. Courtney, the second son of Courtney and Ann, probably built Robe Villa late in his life; he died in March 1809.  

By 1831, Ballinrobe contained 441 houses, of which nearly all were well built and slated, and several of handsome appearance. There were barracks for cavalry and infantry.  Among the gentlemen’s residences were Robe Villa, the seat of Courtney Kenny, Esq., the eldest son of Courtney. Within the property, and on the bank of the river, are the remains of the abbey.

Robe Villa, on Bridge Street, was once the proud home of the Kenny family, who for several generations, owned and managed a large estate and carried on an extensive milling business in Ballinrobe.  The substantial Georgian house was built of blue stone in the late 18th century.  The beautiful ornate ceilings were created by two travelling craft workers, who, in return for their skill, were given accommodation by the Kenny family. 

At the rear of the house is a large building, the Kenny’s mill on the northern bank of the River Robe.  From the bridge can be seen the sluice gates, which were regulated to feed the Mill with waterpower. The Mill, as still can be seen, is quite an extensive building, being seven stories high. Corn grinding was the principal activity.  This was a focal point of activity during its operation with long lines of carts queuing to wait their turn.

The house and mill were sold by a descendant, Courtney Kenny, in the mid 20th century and although still standing the buildings are un-occupied, having been stripped of all fittings, floors and ceilings.  Perhaps the last occupant was the Ballinrobe Rugby Club.  The Club was listed as occupying the residence in 1988.

In September 2003 a notice was attached to the front wall advising that the property was to be re-developed within the external walls, and would consist of 13 flats in the home, 27 apartments in the mill and 20 new houses.  A year later nothing had changed.  It is difficult to say what the position is in 2015.

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Chapter Two

The origins of the names Crowe, Evans, Coote, and Eyre