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How the McKennas Came to Co Monaghan

John O'Donovan's Letters for the Ordinance Survey - May 31st 1835

Dear Sir,

I have spent all this day travelling through the Parish of Errigal-Treugh and conversing with the McKennas. If there was a McKenna now, he could call a numerous band of his name to the field. They are amazingly numerous. I went yesterday to see the old Church of Errigal. It is full of the head stones of McKennas, all which except the very modern ones exhibit the arms of the family, exactly corresponding with those on an old head stone in the church yard of Maghera namely, a deer with branching horns; a man on horseback with three or four dogs, in full chase. Tradition says that McKenna lived originally in Meath but that he and a party of his people followed (chased) a deer from some part of Meath until they killed it in the Townland of Liskenna in the Barony of Treugh which derives its name from that circumstance. After killing the deer he remained for some time with a chief of the name (they think) of Trener who lived near the old Church of Errigal and during his visit with this ancient Chief of Treugh he fell in love with his daughter and married her, and hearing that another branch of his family had seized 32 upon the Government of his territory in Meath, he never returned home, but lived with his father-in-law during the remainder of his days. This was in the eighth century. In course of time his posterity became so numerous in Treugh (as indeed they do wherever they send forth a swarm) that they eclipsed the clan of the ancient chief, and set up a chief of their own name, and to commemorate the manner of their first coming in the country, they adopted the armorial bearings which appear upon all their old tombs.

The following are the oldest inscriptions at Errigal-Treugh:-

"Pr. Tullius Kena
jacet in hoc tumulo,
qui obijt 3 Decembris Anno 1698."

"Hic quoque tumulatae sunt reliquiae
Revd. Tullii McKenna
nuper pastoris de Errigal
qui obiit 27 mo die Octobris 1764 aetatis 56."

"Pater Patricius Trener
me fecit sibe et suis,
qui obiit 1 Novembris 1711."

"Hic Jacet Johannes Tréner
Vicarious de Iregal
qui obiit tertio die Novembris Anno 1714."

Next to the Treners and McKennas, the most numerous families interred in the old Church of Errigal are:- 1. Conolly. 2. McKaghey, among whom the Christian name Ardel (Ardghal) appears. 3. Conlan, with a curious coat of arm. 4. Slevin 5. McCambel (Mac Cathmhaoil). 6. McElmeel Mac Geiolla Mhaoll) in crowds. 7. Mac Avicar (Aviker). 8 .Mac Geough.

I send you the Name Books of Errigal Trough, with the names decided.

Your obedient humble servant,

John O' Donovan.