Over the years, many of us would have seen or heard of one of ireland’s greatest actresses Siobhán Mc Kenna, but not many would know that her father Eoghan was born in Millstreet. This extract is from her papers which have been catalogued and archived by NUI Galway
Biographical History: McKenna, Siobhán (1922–86), actor and theatre director, was born 24 May 1922 at 28 St James’s Park, off the Falls Road, Belfast, Co. Antrim, the second daughter of Margaret (Gretta) O’Reilly from Loch Gamhna, Co. Longford, and her husband, Eoghan McKenna (b. Millstreet, Co. Cork, 1892) lecturer in mathematical physics at the Municipal College of Technology, Belfast…
Born on December 13th 1891 at the Main Street, Millstreet … (please read the comment below which has a detailed biography of Eoghan)
His first teaching post was at the Municipal College, Belfast, and it was there that his daughters Nancy  and Siobhán  were born.
In 1928 the family moved to Shantalla, Galway, following his appointment to University College Galway, where Eoghan was a lecturer in Mathematical Physics (through Irish) until 1933, when he was made Professor of Mathematical Sciences – (from tcd.ie). He trained UCG to Singerson Cup glory in 1941, and was still heavily involved in their 1960 win.
Eóghan died on January 29th 1967: – “(10 Mar 1967). Also letter from Siobhán McKenna, Highfield road, Rathgar, Dublin 6, to Mark [Rudkin] saying that she has been told by “himself” to write to Mark. She apologises for not writing sooner as her father had died in Galway over the Christmas.” He is buried in Rahoon Cemetery in Galway with his wife Mairead and daughter Siobhán (see the headstone below)
“…and, as he wished, his coffin was carried to Rahoon on the shoulders of the great Galway footballers of the fifties and sixties, many of whom had known him as one of their greatest supporters in the Sigerson Cup and All-Ireland Championships’” – ainm.ie
Mac Cionnáich – Eoghan, Ollamh Ollsgoile, a d’éag an 29adh la d’Eanair, 1967, ag a bhaile Cúilín, an Caisleán Nua, Gaillimh. Bhrís mhórdha mhnaoi, Caitlín; dá ingheanacha, Neans agus Siobhán, dá dhrifiúr an Mháthair Bhonabhentúra, Clochar na Trócaire, Corcaigh; dá muintuir, dá ghaolta, agus dá a cháirde go léir. Sochraid go dtí Reilig Ráith Ún inniu (Dia Mairt) thar eis Aifreann 12 a clog i Séipéal Naomh Sheosaimh, Gaillimh.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis Gaedhalach.
McKenna – January 29, 1967, at his home, Cúilin, Newcastle, Galway, Professor Owen McKenna, Dominican Tertiary. Deeply regretted by his wife, daughters, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. R.I.P. Solemn Requiem Mass in St. Joseph’s Church, Galway, at 12 o’c today (Tuesday). Funeral immediately to Rahoon Cemetery.
Obituary. The Irish Times, Monday, 30 January 1967.
Eoghan MacCionnaith, M.A., A.R.C.Sc.I., who died in Galway yesterday, was a former professor of mathematical physics in U.C.G., and was the father of Siobhan McKenna, the actress.
Born in Kanturk, Co. Cork, he taught in Cork and Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, at The Pines, now Garbally Diocesan College, and in Belfast before being appointed in U.C.G., in 1928, as lecturer in mathematics through Irish.
In 1934, he was appointed professor of mathematical physics and supervisor of examinations, and he held both posts until he retired from the College in 1961.
Since 1928 he was president of the G.A.A. club of the college, and through his work in that capacity the resurgence of Gaelic football in Connaught was mainly due.
He is survived by his wife and, in addition to Siobhan (Mrs. Denis O’Dea), another daughter, Mrs. Patrick McMahon (Dublin); his brothers, John, in Cork, and Peadar, in Dun Laoghaire; and by four sisters, the Rev. Mother Bonaventure (Convent of Mercy, Cork), Mrs. Sean Shorten, Cork, Mrs. Sean McCurtin (Dublin), and Miss Henrietta McKenna (London).
From the Church Records, there were McKenna’s in Millstreet in the late 19th century. No sign of an Eoghan however, and no sign of them in the 1901 or 1911 census either. [church records of McKenna’s in Millstreet]. However there is no child born in the records with the name Eoghan or anything similar. There is a Eugene McKenna born on 30th December 1891 and baptised on Jan 2nd 1892 … maybe that’s it, but i don’t know. [update Oct 2016: Eugene here is the Owen/Eoghan we are looking for (cross reference with the civil records listed below)]
An exquisite pencil portrait of Siobhán McKenna adorns the wall of Donnacha’s Dalkey home. Born close to Belfast’s Falls Road in 1923, her father Eoghan McKenna had moved to the Ulster capital from Cork City a few years earlier to teach at Queen’s University.[iii] In 1928 Eoghan McKenna moved his family to Fort Eyre at Shantalla, Co. Galway, when he was appointed lecturer (later professor) in mathematical sciences at UCG. – from an interview with Eoghan’s grandson Donnacha O’Dea
Always different, young Siobhán was expelled from the Dominican convent in Galway City after an episode involving a nun and a bag of flour. She went on to become arguably the finest stage actress Ireland has yet produced… – from TurtleBunbury
added 29th March 2015: The below photo of the McKenna of Millstreet from the start of the 20th Century has appeared on Photos of Cork
“Hennie Mckenna was from Millstreet she is the girl on the middle left at the turn of the century. The girl on the right is Rev Mother Sister Bonaventure” – Eddy Warn
“Sister Bonaventure was the Head Teacher in St Als when I was a Pupil Loved her,She was a born Actress.” – Maureen Kiely
“She would have been great actress her brother top left was Siobhan McKenna father. Aislng & Elaine Symons her grand niece’s are both famous actors” – Eddy Warn
Added 31st March 2015: There is a detailed biography of of Eoghan on ainm.ie:
Added April 2016: Photo of Eoghan McKenna, Mathematician
The children in the family born to Owen McKenna (RIC Sergent) and Hannah Mary Kelly were:
- James Joseph McKenna – born 13th November 1887 at West End, Millstreet – father Owen is a Constable in the RIC [ref]
- Peter Alexander McKenna – born 18th January 1889 at West End, Millstreet [ref]
- Mary Brigit McKenna – born 21st April 1890 at Main St – father Owen is now a Sergent in the RIC, Millstreet [ref]
- Owen McKenna – born 13th December 1892 at Main St, Millstreet [ref]
- John Bernard McKenna – born 3rd March 1893 at Main St, Millstreet [ref]
- Hannah McKenna – 17th Sept 1894 at Pound Hill, Millstreet [ref]
- Cornelius Hugh McKenna – 17th February 1896 at Pound Hill, Millstreet [ref]
- Margaret Teresa McKenna – born 2nd Oct 1897 at Dromanallig, Ballingeary [ref]
- Ann McKenna – born 17th April 1899 at Dromanallig, Ballingeary [ref]
It is possible that the mother Hannah Mary died on May 17th 1935 (aged 65) at “the Cottage, Montenotte” (Widow of RIC Pensioner) [ref] .. or that she died on the commons rd in 1915 (wife of Owen) [ref]
Added 2016-11-21: John Bowman aired the an interview with Siobhain McKenna from the archives, where she talked about her childhood including her father Eoghan. Listen to the podcast on RTE1
A few things to take from the interview:
The McKennas were an extremely happy household, where only Irish was spoken.
Her father used to invite a lot of his students that were interested to the house to dance and to sing
Ceili in the big kitchen, with sandwiches and tea. Many other prominent Irish storytellers and musicians visited the house regularly.
Not on great pay as tecahers, her parents were resourceful with money.
Her mother and father were great readers, and read to the children aloud in Irish and French and English. Reading material was always available.
The best times were when their father would bring them to the country in longford where her grandmother was from, but also to the gaeltacht, where she gained her love of the irish language, not through books, but through the enjoyment of life.
Her father and mother were great theatre goers, but the last thing in their minds were of her going into theatre, and her father was shocked when she left school to take a part in the Abbey Theatre.”
Siobhán McKenna (or Siobhán Nic Cionnait Aisteoir, as she was also known) was born 24 May 1923 in house off the Falls Road in west Belfast, although her mother was originally deom Longford and her father from Cork. The McKEnnas were an academic cultured, middle class family who were passionate about the Irish language and spoke nothing else at home. At the time of Siobhán’s birth, her father was lecturing at Queen’s University, Belfast, but when she was eight years old he moved the family to Galway where he became Progessor of Mathematics at Galway University.
11th July 1917: Marriage of Owen McKenna (teacher living in Ballinasloe) to Margaret O’Reilly (a drapers assistant living in Fermoy) at Granard, Longford, her home town.