Jack McKenna (b. 1918) and Sue McKenna
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Jack McKenna (b. 1918) and Sue McKenna


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John Joseph McKenna was a descendant of Thomas McKenna who went from Monaghan to Wexford in 1798 to fight in the Rebellion. When it failed, he travelled to Bantry to meet the French invasion, which was aborted. Wounded in the hand and on the run, he intended returning to Monaghan, but made the decision to settle in Ballyduhig, close to Listowel in Co. Kerry. Sue McKenna explains that John J. McKenna had emigrated in 1909 to Reno, Nevada, where his relatives ran a hardware business. On his return to Ireland he took over the family business from his mother. He was nationalistic, his son Jack explains, probably because his mother and her brother had been evicted from their home by the landlord Hewson. Jack explains that his father was very involved in the Irish Volunteer movement. He reads from a newspaper account of a meeting held in 1913 with a view to the foundation of a branch of the Volunteers in Listowel. Sue reads further from this account. She explains that the group began drilling, marching and fundraising to purchase rifles. John J. McKenna harboured guns in McKenna’s Mill yard. He was one of those who received the message sent from Dublin about the Rising. He travelled to the city but was sent home when it was discovered that he was a married man. Sue describes events when the men took over the lands from Lord Listowel. The letters written when Lord Listowel was requested to relinquish the fields for vegetable growing are discussed, and Jack reads one of his father’s letters to Lord Listowel. It is his view that the landlord had no respect for the Irish and was not willing to make any sacrifice for the people. He remarks that his father harboured no anti-English feelings in general. Sue recalls the fact that John would say that there was only one language the English understood, and that was the gun. He was Chairman of Kerry Co. Council when he was arrested and court-martialled in Cork on a charge of concealing arms. He was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment in Belfast, but became so ill he was sent home after eight months. While he was in prison his wife Grace kept the business going, and in fact she expanded it although she was pregnant with their son Jack. When the baby arrived his birth was celebrated in Belfast Prison with whiskey smuggled in in a Bovril bottle inside a chicken! A letter from Austin Stack is read in which he describes a riot in the prison in which John McKenna was involved. John J. McKenna submitted a witness statement to the Bureau of Military History and the letter acknowledging receipt of this is read, as is the witness statement itself. Sue remarks on the fact that the details about his rejection in Dublin in 1916, owing to his married status, is absent from the statement. She reflects on the struggle for Irish freedom and the restrictions imposed by English rule. Jack remarks that his father was well respected by Protestant business people. During his leisure time he played rugby and held musical evenings in his home. The expansion brought about in the family business when he returned from America and borrowed from his family rather than a bank is discussed. On his death, John J. McKenna was buried with full military honours.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

41.13 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



John J. McKenna (Interviewees’ father and father-in-law respectively)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore