Eoghan McKenna

Eoghan McKennaOver 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 [1919] and Siobhán [1922] 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


Death Notices.

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).

Headstone of Eoghan McKenna, his wife Margaret, and daughter Siobhán, at Rahoon Cemetery, Galway
Headstone of Eoghan McKenna, his wife Margaret, and daughter Siobhán, at Rahoon Cemetery, Galway


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


Index of the Siobhán McKenna papers (NUI Galway)
About Siobhán McKenna (wikipedia)

baptism of Eugene McKenna (1892)




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

2015-03-29 The McKennas of #millstreet at turn of the century.2nd from left,back row,is Owen,father of actress Siobhan McKenn
The McKennas of Millstreet at the turn of the century. 2nd from left, back row, is Owen, father of actress Siobhan McKenna. On the right is Sister Bonaventura

“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

Eoghan McKenna


Marriage of Owen’s parents: Owen McKenna a policeman in Kanturk, and Hanorah Kelly from Egmont Road, Kanturk, on 8th February 1887


1892-birth-registration-for-owen-mckennaBirth Registration of Owen McKenna – born 13th Dec 1891

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]


Marriage of Owen McKenna (teacher living in Ballinasloe) to Margaret O’Reilly (a drapers assistant living in Fermoy) at Granard, Longford, her home town, on 11th July 1917.


Marriage of Mary Bridget McKenna and John Shorten in Cork Cathedral on April 26th 1919, by Fr. M O’Sullivan. She from Commons Road, daughter of Owen McKEnna, a clerk. He from 2 York Street, off King’s Street(now McCurtain’s Street), son of John Shorten (dead) a farmer. Witnessed by George Kelleher and Margaret McKenna.

Marriage of Ann McKenna and Sean Curtin on July 31st 1923 by Fr. William O’Brien at Cork Cathedral. She of Commons Rd, daughter of Owen McKenna, RIC. He a teacher of Ballintemple, son of Michael Curtin (dead), a farmer. Witnessed by Maurice O’Connor and Hannah McKenna.

Death of Hannah McKenna on 13th February at Brideville, Commons Rd., Married, 65 years, housekeeper, pnemonia 4 days certified, Owen McKenna widower present at death, Brideville Commons Rd.
Death of Owen McKenna on 27th November 1923 at Brideville, Commons Road, Cork, widower, 69 years, a Clerk, Myocarditis 2 years certified, McKenna present at death, Brideville Commons Rd.


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
Ceilí in the big kitchen, with sandwiches and tea. Many other prominent Irish storytellers and musicians visited the house regularly.
Not on great pay as teachers, 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 from 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 Professor of Mathematics at Galway University.



At a hearing into the burning of Millstreet Mill in 1896:- “Sergeant McKenna, Millstreet, said he was in his present station since 1887 and knew that Murphy was badly boycotted at one portion of that period.”
[Cork Constitution – Monday 18 May 1896]

So the McKenna’s would have been in Millstreet from 1887 to 1896/1897 when their father was moved to Ballingeary RIC Station.


Rev Mother Sister Bonaventure (1975) was Head Mistress at St. Aloysius Girls Secondary School in Cork.

(TODO: some nice comments )

TODO: sister henrietta here


County of Cork W.R – 41236 McKenna, Owen, Sergeant was presented with a Marble Clock bt some Friends in Millstreet on the occasion of his transfer to the District of Macroom, as a token of their esteem, and in appreciation of his many sterling qualities as a Police Officer whilst stationed in Millstreet
[Constabulary Lists Volume 19 – January 1997]


TODO: service record etc. for Owen McKenna

5 thoughts on “Eoghan McKenna”

  1. A photo of the McKenna’s of Millstreet at the turn of the 19th/20th century appeared on Photos of Cork today. Some had debated that the McKenna’s were from Mill Street in Galway City, but it appears not to be so. 2nd from left,back row, is Owen,father of actress Siobhan McKenna.

    Owen is used here whereas Eoghan was used in the family documents (listed above)

    The photo has been added above, but it originated on the Photos of Cork twitter account.

    1. Thank you, Michael, for alerting us to the fact that the famous Siobhán McKenna’s father was from Millstreet. One of the sections in “Picture Millstreet” (published in 1997) was entitled “Famous People” associated with Millstreet. Little did we realise that Millstreet had such a very real link with a world-famous Actor as the late Siobhán McKenna. And many thanks for discovering amazing facts relating to Millstreet’s history which have not come to light in such a public manner (until you have highlighted them) which you have been sharing with all of us on a regular basis on the Millstreet website. Millstreet is indeed hugely fortunate to have someone so genuinely dedicated like you with such a great interest in local history and with such expertise in discovering such wonderfully interesting historical gems – a very real treasure for coming generations.

  2. As far as I know the cup for which the first year “freshers” gaelic football teams from the irish universities compete i.e the Mckenna Cup is called after Siobhan McKenna’s father Professor Eoghan McKenna

    Admin’s note: It would be nice to see if this is correct. It’s not to be confused with the Dr McKenna Cup which is played between counties and universities in Ulster at the start of every year … which is named after Bishop Patrick McKenna, Bishop of Clogher, who was one of the few clergy willing to be associated with the GAA back in 1920s

    1. Freddie, you’re correct on the Professor McKenna Cup. I couldn’t find anything on it, until a search for his name as gaeilge turned up a detailed biography on ainm.ie (http://www.ainm.ie/Bio.aspx?ID=635) which seems to confirm it. I’ve translated the biography below as best as i could:

      MAC CIONNAITH, Eoghan (1891–1967)
      He was one of the professors who taught to the University College, Galway, in Gaelic. ‘Owen’ was born on Main Street, Millstreet, Co. Cork, on 13th of December 1891. His father was Owen McKenna, a sergeant in the Royal Constabulary, and his mother Hannah Mary Kelly from Hawthorn chalets, Mallow. His father was from Monaghan and he resigned from the force and was appointed manager in the coal business in Suttons of Cork, which brought the family to Cork. Had at least two brothers and three sisters.

      He attended Ballingeary School for seven years, and spent the 1903-09 period in North Monastery where he won a scholarship to the College of Science in Dublin for three years. He won an award each year. He received a BA in mathematics and mathematical physics in 1912 and MA in 1916 from the National University of Ireland, and a B.Sc. (1919) and M.Sc. (1924) from the University of London. He completed under Tadhg O’Donoghue (Torna) in Cork for Irish Certificates. Between 1912 and 1920 he spent short periods of teaching in North Monastery in Cork, St Colman’s College, Fermoy, Joseph College in Ballinasloe, Presentation College Cork, in college in Greenock and Glasgow. From 1920 to 1928 he lectured in Belfast City Technology College. It is said that some of his students received one hundred percent in the examinations. He was a lecturer and external examiner for Queens College during the time. He was appointed a lecturer at University College Galway in 1928. He stated in his application that he was going for Irish since he left the College of Science and not let it over without a term of years to the Gaeltacht. He was involved in Galway Gaelic League and was a delegate at Ard Fheis 1931. He was appointed Professor of Mathematics. An t-Éireannach of April 6, 1935 says that he was awarded a university medal by the Association of Poetry and Storytelling during Seachtain na Gaeilge. He was involved in the College Gaelic Football Association and was its President from 1928 off (Sigerson Cup 1911-1963 by Patrick McDermott).

      He was married to Margaret O’Reilly from Granard, Co. Longford. They had two daughters, one the famous actress Siobhan McKenna (24 May 1923-16 November 1986), the other Nancy (b.1919). He lived at ‘Tresses’, Newcastle, at the time of his death, January 29, 1967, and is buried in Rahoon, Co Galway. Says Michael Hayes (Joan: a memoir of the actress, 1994): ‘‘…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’. It says in the Connacht Tribune 3rd February 1967: ‘ [He] was responsible for the resurgence of Gaelic football throughout Connacht through the success of this club [Cumann Choláiste Ollscoile na Gaillimhe] whose teams and individual members won every honour possible down the years’. The McKenna Cup tournament was established in his memory. Her sister Mary Bridget married John Shorten, from Cork, who was on the Cork football team won the All Ireland in 1911 and a brother to George Shorten. One niece of Eoghan is historian Sister Benvenuta (Dr. Margaret MacCurtain).

      Diarmuid Breathnach

      Máire Ní Mhurchú


      Another document by UCD refers to the new Professor McKenna Cup for Freshers in the 1966/67 year, which means the tournament would have been first played in the weeks after his death. [doc]

      Here are a few more mentions of Eoghan with the Singerson team at UCG:

      UCG, under the guidance of Prof. Owen McKenna (father of the distinguished actress Siobhain McKenna), defeated UCD 0-8 to 2-1 in the 1941 final played at Galway Sportsground.


      The Chairman of the (NUI Galway Gaelic Games) Club who did much to develop Gaelic games in the college and was involved in preparing this team (1960 Sigerson Cup Champions – UCG) was Professor Owen McKenna



      FORMER GAA President Dr. Mick Loftus remembers all those who gave their time to prepare the students for the Sigerson Cup. The likes of Billy Kenny, Mick Raftery, Mick and Paddy Higgins and Professor Owen McKenna, who was “such an outstanding person”, are just a few he mentions.


      I would like to acknowledge my debt to Professor Eoghan McKenna, of fond memory, of University College Galway, who introduced me to tensor calculus using vector notation in the late 1950s.
      John Roche, Linacre College, Oxford (2001)

      1. Here is link to the family in the 1901 census http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Cork/Bealanageary/Dromanallig/1124479/

        the below details are added by the admin:

        Residents of a house 4 in Dromanallig (Bealanageary, Cork)
        Surname Forename Age Sex Relation to head Religion
        McKenna Hannah Mary 44 Female Wife Roman Catholic
        McKenna James Joseph 13 Male Son Roman Catholic
        McKenna Peter Alexr 12 Male Son Roman Catholic
        McKenna Mary Bridget 10 Female Daughter Roman Catholic
        McKenna Owen 9 Male Son Roman Catholic
        McKenna John Bernard 8 Male Son Roman Catholic
        McKenna Hannah 6 Female Daughter Roman Catholic
        McKenna Cornelius Hugh 5 Male Son Roman Catholic
        McKenna Margaret Teresa 3 Female Daughter Roman Catholic
        McKenna Anne 1 Female Daughter Roman Catholic

        by the 1911 census, the family are living in Cork, and the father Owen is listed in the census this time, but young Owen has presumably flown the nest, and doesn’t seem to appear on the Census nationwide

        Residents of a house 22 in Commons Lower (St. Mary’s, Cork)
        Surname Forename Age Sex Relation to head Religion
        McKenna Owen 56 Male Head of Family R Catholic
        McKenna Hannah Mary 55 Female Wife R Catholic
        McKenna Mary Bridget 20 Female Daughter R Catholic
        McKenna John Bernard 18 Male Son R Catholic
        McKenna Hannah 16 Female Daughter R Catholic
        McKenna Cornelius Hugh 15 Male Son R Catholic
        McKenna Margaret Teresa 13 Female Daughter R Catholic
        McKenna Anne 11 Female Daughter R Catholic

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