The Irish Kennedys are descended from Dunchaun, the brother of the mighty King Brian Born. The name comes from his father Ceann Eidig, meaning “helmet head.” Appropriately, the arms of the Kennedys have three helmets.
From the 11th-15th centuries they were Lords of Ormond. The Kennedys dealt with the various conquests and confiscations better than many other Gaelic families. In 1185, Theobald Walter, founder of the powerful line of the Butlers, arrived in the wake of the Normans and was granted the Kennedy territory and the title of Ormond, together with their lands around Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. But the Kennedys stood firm and won back their territory including, for a while, the fine castle built by the Normans at Nenagh.
But by the 17th century their day was over and the Kennedys began to follow the emigrant trail. In the Irish Brigades in France, there were many Kennedy officers and men. Those who went to Spain had their name transformed to Quenedy.
Without question the most famous Kennedy of modern times was the 35th President of the U.S. John F. Kennedy. He, his late brother Robert and current Senator Edward are descended from a County Wexford branch of the Dalcassian family some of whom were farmers. This Kennedy dynasty has maintained a major position in politics and public service through to today.
A Kennedy who currently has one of the most powerful seats in government is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. He was appointed by President Reagan and took the position in 1988. Although he has a conservative voting record, Kennedy has been moderate in his decisions. He has proven to be a justice who preserves case precedent and he has at times set aside his own Catholic beliefs in issues of the separation of church and state, abortion and consensual homosexual acts in order to preserve the Constitution.
Justice Kennedy is not the only famous Kennedy of the legal profession. African-American writer and Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy is the author of Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity and Adoption and Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. In a further Kennedy coincidence, his 1997 book Race, Crime, and the Law won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize. Randall Kennedy is one of the top authorities on race relations in the country.
Across the Atlantic, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (Queen’s Counsel) has been one of the best criminal lawyers in the U.K. She has defended Irish people in Irish terrorist trials including the Brighton Bombing and the Guilford Four Appeal. She has cited the Guildford Four as one of the most important cases she has been involved in. Kennedy recently spoke out against the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Kennedy name has had an equally successful impact on the arts. Irish crooner Brian Kennedy has had three albums in the Top 30 of the Irish album charts simultaneously. He has taken his great range and perfect pitch on tour with Van Morrison and The Corrs. In March of 2000, he started the first of almost 300 performances singing for Riverdance on Broadway.
Two Kennedys getting big laughs on TV are Jamie Kennedy and Mimi Kennedy. Jamie, who starred in Scream and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, has a comedy TV show called The Jamie Kennedy Experiment on the WB network. He still does the standup circuit. Actress, writer and activist Mimi Kennedy plays Dharma’s mother Abby on the hit sitcom Dharma & Greg. She has also starred in Death Becomes Her and Erin Brockovich. She was raised in a traditional Irish Catholic home in New York and went to Smith College. Her 1996 autobiography is titled Taken to the Stage: The Education of an Actress. She is politically active in human rights, environmental and animal issues and is currently writing a novel.
The most famous novel written by a Kennedy was William Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Ironweed. ♦