The surname came into being independently in a number of places in Ireland, including Tyrone, Donegal/Leitrim and Down, where the original Irish was O Coinne. The most important family of the name, however, arose in the area of east Galway and south Roscommon known in ancient times as Ui Maine, where they were of the same stock as the Maddens, and it is in Galway and Roscommon that the name is still most frequent today.
James Kenney (1780-1849), born in Dublin, was one of the most successful and prolific playwrights of his day, author of more than 50 plays. His reputation has not prospered. Byron wrote of him:
"Kenney?s `World? - ah, where is Kenney?s wit? -
Tires the sad gallery, lulls the listless pit."
Elizabeth Kenny (1886-1952) was an Australian nurse who became widely known for the treatment she developed for paralysed children. Despite widespread opposition from the medical establishment, her methods, which involved stimulation and physiotherapy instead of casts and splints, eventually gained acceptance. The Kenny Institute in Minneapolis is named for her.