Friday 17 January 2014

The McKennas at Teampall Cheallaigh

Teampall Cheallaigh and Mullagh Lake

Teampall Cheallaigh is where you'll find the oldest resting place of the Mullagh McKennas,  by the shores of Mullagh Lake, and more recently the final resting place of TP & May McKenna.

It takes its name from the small church that existed there, the 'church of chilleach', the ruin of which still stands.

Burials have taken place at this site since the time of the 14th Century and the oldest extant tombstone is believed to be that of Philip O'Reilly who died in 1683.

There is also a mass grave for the 320 victims of the parish who died in the famine of 1854-59.

The landmark church on the site (below) dates from the early 19th Century and is the Church of Ireland parish church for Mullagh's Anglican community.

The early 19th Century Church of Ireland 
The McKenna Plot

From 1795 the first three generations of this branch of the clan (which emerged out of Monaghan, incidentally)  are buried here starting with Nicholas McKenna in whose memory the existing headstone was erected by his sons.

The McKenna Headstone

For the most part the old headstone has stood the test of time very well.  Though it has tilted slightly, it's still firmly founded and relatively free from erosion. It has not faired so well against the crustacean of lichen which has obscured much of the detail in the intervening centuries

It is fortunate then that a previous parish priest of Mullagh, Fr.Traynor, set down a brief record of the stone in 1970 which we present here:-

'The McCanna or McKenna memorial in Temple Kelly Cemetery, Mullagh'

The inscription reads:

This stone was erected ...
By Laurence McCanna, Peter Mc
Canna, Patrick
McCanna & James Mc
Canna in memory
of their father
Nicholas McCanna
who departed this 
life July the 22nd
1795 aged 69 years
May his soul rest in 
Peace. Amen.

The above memorial stands in the South Eastern section of the ancient cemetery attached to Temple Kelly.

The carving and the lettering on this erect headstone are very fine. At the top of the stone is a scroll bearing the words 'Gloria in excelsis Deo'.

Underneath is a figure of the crucified Christ with carved angels to the right and left of the sacred head.  In the space below the extended right arm a soldier is depicted with lance, ladder and the instruments of the passion.  In the space below the extended left arm is a carving of the well known 'cock and pot' legend which on monuments is universally adopted as a symbol of the last Resurrection. The apocryphal legend states that Judas declared that the Resurrection was as unlikely as that a bird being cooked would come to life, where upon the bird flew out of the pot and clapped his wings and crowed thrice.  A very fine representation of the 'cock and pot' legend is to be seen on the Plunkett altar tomb, dated 1531, at Rathmore, Co.Meath, 3 miles north-east of Athboy on the road to Navan.  The Rathmore carving may have inspired the similar one in Mullagh.  (Fr. O Traynor p.p.)"

[There are two small points of detail to note here.  One, that the gaelic spelling for the cemetery is something that has only been reverted to in more recent times.  The other is the transition of the family name from 'McCanna' to 'McKenna'. Quite when that occurred has yet to be established.]

The McKenna plot
The last burials of previous McKenna generations would have been the children of Nicholas & Mary (nee.Conaty) McKenna in the latter half of the 19th Century.  By 1904 though, the story moves approximately three miles East to the neighbouring village of Moynalty.

The McKenna plot at Moynalty
It was there that the first T.P. McKenna established a new, larger family plot.  This was following the tragic death of his wife Sarah (nee. Clinton) aged just 37 who had succumbed to TB not long after the birth of her tenth child and it continues now as the main plot of the Mullagh McKennas.

So why, it could be asked, do T.P. & May McKenna come to rest by the old McKenna plot at Teampall Chellaigh?

Their son, Stephen takes up the story:

"Our father, TP, was very taken with the longevity of the family history and one blistering, hot summer day when he visited Mullagh, with all of us in tow,  he had his father take us up to find the old headstone. 

This was not a straightforward task by any means. Kelly's graveyard was long since closed to new burials and years of unchallenged weeds and nettles had successfully staked their claim.

It really was as if we were on a trek into the jungle and I had to take to my father's shoulders as I was in my summer shorts.  Also, the ground became distinctly precipitous at the lower end of the cemetery.

Finally, and who knows how, the stone was eventually located and efforts were made to clear away all the long grass but, even so,  not much could be deciphered and the surrounding foliage at its summer high, casting a shade over everything, was no help.  My grandfather recoursed to striking matches to bring some light to bear.  I recall that he was able to read out a certain amount of the inscription.

Whether it was in that moment or mulling over visit subsequently my father resolved that here was where he wished to be buried and I can remember him saying as much to his mother on another visit home, not long before her own passing.

'I'm going to be buried at Kelly's graveyard!!', he declared, proudly.

'WHAT??  Are ya mad?', she scolded him in reply. 'You CAN'T'. She continued, 'it's shut!'

Her son roared with laughter at this.  'Well, I'll just have them open it again', said my father calmly, bringing the discussion to a close, and indeed some time in the 90s, true to his word, he made application to the local Board of Works, who administered such matters, to request leave for him and May to be buried at Teampall Cheallaigh in the old McKenna plot.

Snowdrops arrive as early as February
Now, there was more to this process than a clerical dotting of 'i's and crossing for 't's.  For permission to be granted a survey of the plot had to be undertaken by the works engineers.  This would be to ensure that the ground was safe and still had adequate drainage and such to accommodate a new arrival. Then he also had to seek the blessing of his cousins and ensure that they held no objections to his request.

Finally, he received communication from Cavan County Council confirming that permission was granted for the internment of himself and May at Temple Cheallaigh at such time as that eventuality might arise.

Kindly, the signing official expressed his wish that there would be many years to come before they'd have cause to avail of it.

Well, that time did indeed come (first with the passing of May in 2007) and the wisdom of Daddy's foresight in making these complex plans came to make sense.

TP's funeral as reported in the Irish Times in February 2011

Although, he travelled far away from Mullagh in his lifetime, he never forgot where he had come from,  nor the peaceful and charming surrounds of Mullagh Lake which had been the backdrop to his childhood and formative years.

Mullagh Lake & Teampall Cheallaigh away in the distance

To stand at the grave of my parents today is to be in a remarkable place.  Somewhere in the distance there's the faint sound of a tractor working a field,  the discrete lowing of cattle at pasture nearby and perhaps the eerie sound of a swan's wings beating the waters of the lake as it takes flight.

TP & May's grave

From 1795 to 2011 these two headstones now stand side by side,
almost like bookends in the McKenna history.

It's a location which is at once set back from the temporal world and yet not so much so that it is unvisited.  

In fact, with the boom in recreation that is evident on any visit to Mullagh these days, many a walker and runner stops by at Teampall Chellaigh and families of those interred here gather annually for the blessing of the graves.

So, should you ever find yourself in that hybrid corner of Cavan, that's almost as much Meath (the border's only a mile or two away), then stop a while and say hello to the McKennas. 

You'll be glad you did."

TP & His Ancestors

Nicholas McKenna was married to Rose McMahon,
His son James was married to Anne Lee,
His son Nicholas was married to Mary Conaty,
His son Thomas Patrick was married to Sarah Clinton,
His son Raphael Patrick was married to Mary C.O'Reilly,
His son Thomas Patrick was married to May White

Mullagh Lake and beyond

Saturday 10 November 2012


Although he never knew him, TP had an uncle, the youngest of TP McKenna Senior's sons, who lived an all too short, but action packed life, before his death in the Argentine just aged 26.

He too had been called TP and in this detailed report and obituary from the Meath Chronicle of February, 1929, his eventful story is told.

"A cable message from Buenos Aires brings the sad intelligence of the death of Mr. T.P. McKenna, ex-Colonel, National Army which took place at Cuidad de Cordoba, Argentina, on Wednesday.

The deceased, who was the youngest son of Mr. T.P. McKenna, Mullagh, was born in 1903.  On leaving Mullagh Primary School he entered St.Patrick's College, Cavan, where, under it's efficient staff of Professors, he followed a very successful course of studies until, after obtaining his matriculation Certificate, he became a student of University College, Dublin.

During his first year at UCD he joined the ranks of of the Volunteers, ultimately becoming attached to an Active Service Unit of that force until having to leave the city and take up service in the country he became Adjutant of the 3rd Meath Brigade, 1st East Division, for which he passed ink the National Army, attaining afterwards the rank of Colonel.

He had the great courage and spirit of a strong man, but unfortunately, his extreme youth was unfitted for the strain of the great hardship and exposure attending his continuous service during the pre-truce period and afterwards.

TP Jnr as a child (circled)
On leaving the army he resumed his studies at the University but soon found that his health had been so seriously undermined that a change of climate was necessary. He accordingly emigrated to Argentina and during a considerable stay in Buenos Aires, devoted himself to teaching English and journalistic work, a number of contributions from his pen appearing from time to time in the newspapers of that city. He also, with true patriotic instinct, set about filling a great want amongst the Irish residents of Buenos Aires by starting a movement for the establishment of an Irish Society similar to those existing in the case of other nationalities in that city,  and had the great satisfaction of seeing his efforts rewarded with complete success.  His medical advisers having recommended a change to a higher altitude, he left Buenos Aires for Cata Marca and later Cuidad de Cordoba, where his death took place after two months illness.  We extend to his respected father and other members of the family our deep sympathy on the premature death of this gallant and most promising young Irishman.

The Meath Chronicle report
and obituary reproduced
in a family pamphlet.
An esteemed contributor writes:- The death which is reported from the Argentine, of T.P. McKenna, junior, youngest son of Mr. T.P. McKenna of Mullagh, at the early age of 26 years, has caused widespread regret, and the greatest sympathy is felt with the McKenna family, and especially the deceased's father, so well known as an auctioneer and business man, who has taken an important part in public affairs and was  a member of public bodies in Meath and Cavan for more than half a century.  

Young T.P.. as the deceased was known to his comrades showed promise of more than ordinary talent from boyhood, and having matriculated from St.Patrick's College, Cavan, took up the study of medicine.  From 1918 to 1920, while he was pursuing his medical studies, the country was plunged in the worst part of the Black & Tan regime, and young McKenna,  whose father and brother's had made a heroic fight for the return of Arthur Griffith at the memorable East Cavan bye-election in 1918 became connected with the IRA in Dublin.  

'Young' TP with his brother, John, were
active members of the Mullagh Volunteers.
Having taken part in many street engagements against the British Forces in Dublin, including the engagement in which his great pal and comrade, Kevin Barry, was captured and later executed, he was obliged to cease study and returned, accompanied by a young Dublin cousin and fellow student, John McEvoy (subsequently arrested in Mullagh during an extraordinary raid by Black and Tans, Military and Auxillaries, when they kept the male population of the town on the Fair Green for three hours, imprisoned for the second time in Arbor Hill, and afterwards killed during the civil strife), to his native Mullagh district to give full time service to the I.R.A..  

A ceremonial millbomb cast in tribute to TP Jnr's role as
Adjutant to the 3rd Meath Brigade.

His abilities were soon recognised by G.H.Q. and the officers in charge of the Meath Brigade, I.R.A., which then included the entire county of Cavan and Westmeath.  In the early months of 1921, when the different Volunteer units and areas were being arranged with a view to using greater strategy against the formidable enemy, the 1st Eastern Division was formed from the Meath Birigade with additional units from Cavan. Louth, Kildare and Offaly.  It was then T.P. McKenna was appointed adjutant of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Eastern Division and he soon brought his organising and training abilities into effect.  He worked unceasingly in the area, which comprised a large portion of Meath and Cavan and conducted an officers' training corps on the summit of his native Mullagh Hill during the very warm months of June and July, 1921.  

TP jnr remembered on the
family headstone in
Moynalty, Co.Meath
The truce intervened in July and other and different methods of training were adopted.  The Treaty having been signed, the great difference of opinion that followed broke up the I.R.A., and T.P. McKenna, believing in the Treaty and being intimate with General Michael Collins, he offered his services to the National Army, and there again found scope for his abilities.  He proved himself an efficient and popular officer with all ranks, and as his health became impaired he was demobilised in 1924 with the rank of Col.Comdy., and later emigrated to the Argentine, where his did well and contributed prose and verse to the leading journals that country, some of which have been reproduced by papers in Ireland.  In the different spheres of life, as a student, as a Volunteer Officer, and in civilian life, by all who had been privileged to know him, the most respected and most beloved was T.P. McKenna.

Some on the shores of distand land
Their weary hearts have laid
And by the strangers' heedless hands
There lonely graves were made

(From the 'Meath Chronicle' February 23rd 1929)

In an eerie footnote to this story, it was recently noted that the two TPs, uncle and nephew, both passed away on the same date, the 13th of February, in 1929 and 2011 respectively.

Friday 17 September 2010


The McKennas came to Mullagh in the latter part of the 1700s with, it is said, no more than the pack on their backs.  However by 1795 they were established and trading from one of the earliest constructed buildings in the village as a corner house, pub and grocery.

By 1825 Nicholas McKenna, auctioneer, tradesman and big farmer had established a fortune.  As TP recalled in a a profile for the Sunday Tribune by Dierdre Purcell, "My great grandfather was an extraordinary man.  Although I hate to to think it, I have to suspect he was a gombeen [trans. wheeler dealer / operator]. He become enormously rich."

However, the gift of acumen was not so smoothly passed down and Nicholas's son (TP) had more interest in public life. "He must have had a guilty conscience about the money," TP ponders, " ...because he went into public life and squandered every penny."


"My father was an auctioneer.  He was a warm man but quite stern as a father.  I remember a well-known lawyer describing him as the last of the Brehon judges.  In those days in the village of Mullagh we had no solicitors and he drew up more wills in his lifetime than any man I know.  He would travel down long country lanes of mud to visit the houses of dying men and advise them about who to leave the land to.  He was trusted in that way by local people.  People would come from all over the area for advice from him.  He was very wise."

Ralph as a young man pictured here with father TP and sister May
Ralph with his brother, TP's Uncle John


TP's grandfather, after whom he was named, married Sarah Clinton on 23rd November 1890 and they had ten children together before Sarah died in childbrith. She was just 33.

At about the same time, TP had a cousin, Peter, who had emigrated to America and trained as a doctor with the army. He had married a Louisiana girl named Anna but she was widowed when he died in a railway accent.

In mutual condolence, the two widows, fell into correspondence and a friendship blossomed. This resulted in Anna crossing the Atlantic to visit Mullagh in 1908. She never returned and stayed to help TP raise his family.

TP junior takes up the story: "The woman I knew as my granny was, in fact, my grandfather's second wife and she was an extraordinary lady. She had no Irish blood in her at all; she was born Anna Sceibell in Louisiana, America and was part German. She arrived in the village of Mullagh, Co. Cavan, in 1908 when my father was a child, and she helped bring up the children.

"You're the Yankee," they used to say to her in the Mullagh street to which she'd respond with a refined Southern poise, "No, I'm an American."

TP's 'Granny', Anna
I was the first grandchild and she used to read to me from a very early age, maybe two or three. She would read a great deal of Dickens and other writers of that kind. All I can remember is that she used to sit me on her knee and that she had a lovely Southen lilt to her voice. Then she had a stroke and I missed this business of hearing stories every evening so much that I started reading at a very early age."
The McKenna Family as they appear in the 1911 census

Wednesday 15 September 2010


There's little information avaialble for this photograph but one would assume it was when TP McKenna would have been involved in the work of Cavan County Council.  It appears to be on the steps of a hospital or a nursing home following some dedication ceremony, or such.  

TP is visible in the centre of the shot with his walrus moustache and a rain coat on his arm along with his co-principals who are evidenlty a collection of the local great and good - the committee or 'comaty' as it would have been locally known.

The quality of the picture is very fine but the sharpest focus point has inadvertently fallen on the onlookers at the back of the crowd and in this enlargement we get a very clear view of a series of faces.   Over a hundred years on they appear as alive and vivid as they were at the start of the 20th Century.