The Kenny Family 1911

Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2008), Volume 16

Josephine Kenny (stage name Josie O’Day) as a young performer at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin; she was the second-eldest child of the Kenny family. Listed as a schoolgirl in 1911, she later married fellow performer (and early partner to Jimmy O’Dea) Jim Johnson. She died in 1968, aged 71.

Josephine Kenny (stage name Josie O’Day) as a young performer at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin; she was the second-eldest child of the Kenny family. Listed as a schoolgirl in 1911, she later married fellow performer (and early partner to Jimmy O’Dea) Jim Johnson. She died in 1968, aged 71.

In 1911 Edward Kenny and his wife Anne lived with their four children, Elleanor (17 years), Josephine (14), Anne (6) and baby Edward (‘1 and 6/12’!), in No.1a Whitefriar Place, Dublin. They shared three rooms with Mrs Elizabeth Monaghan (70) and her ‘relative’ Elizabeth (20), the Kenny family occupying two of the rooms and the Monaghan family the other.
Listed as second-class accommodation by the enumerator, by today’s standards it would appear to be a poor standard of housing but it was probably not untypical for low-income families of the time.
Nevertheless, with three people providing income (father: insurance clerk; mother: ladies’ tailor; daughter Elleanor: music teacher), the Kenny family seem not to have been on the breadline. But it is a mystery why they seem so badly off.
All of the older children and the parents could read and write, and the younger girl, Anne, could read at age six. The parents, Edward (intriguingly born in India) and Anne, had been married for eighteen years in 1911; Anne is listed as 35 years old, so she would have been married at 17 and Edward would have been 27.
The Kennys were all Roman Catholics, but Mrs Monaghan (an ‘old-age pensioner’) and relative Elizabeth, who shared No. 1a with them, were counted as Church of Ireland. Was the elder Elizabeth renting rooms to my mother’s family to supplement what must have been a meagre pension?
My grandmother had given birth to five living children but only four had survived in 1911. She produced at least one more child in 1919 (my mother).
All of the children went on to live relatively prosperous lives. Josephine was a noted variety artist in her day, and later ran a theatrical boarding house with the help of her sister Elleanor (herself a musician); Annie owned a shop in Ballymena, having played violin with her husband in a dance band; Edward was an R&D technician in Windsor; and my mother, who had also been a dancer and variety performer, married a former Benedictine monk in a whirlwind romance and settled in England aged 22, never to return to Ireland.

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