Kennedy, Gilbert (1678–1745), presbyterian minister, was born in 1678 in Dundonald, Co. Down, son of the Rev. Gilbert Kennedy and his wife (née Montgomery). Kennedy primus was a nephew of the 6th earl of Cassilis, and was born (1627) in Ardmillan, Ayrshire, Scotland; he was minister of Girvan, Ayrshire, until deposed for nonconformity in 1662. He took refuge in Ireland, and though hunted by agents of Roger Boyle (qv), bishop of Down and Connor (1667–72), preached secretly in north Down; in 1670, he became minister of Comber and Dundonald, Co. Down, and died 6 February 1688. His elder brother was the Rev. Thomas Kennedy of Carland, Co. Tyrone, one of the ministers of the ‘army presbytery’, and chaplain to Gen. Robert Monro (qv). Gilbert Kennedy primus was the progenitor of several dynasties of religious leaders in Ireland and America, and his descendants in the north of Ireland were prominent also in commerce and public life; they include the Andrews family of Comber, and the McTears and the Hyndmans of Belfast. His daughter Catherine married William Tennent (qv) and was mother of Gilbert Tennent (qv) and William Tennent (qv); a descendant of Gilbert Kennedy was wife of Samuel Barber (qv), and another was wife of Marcus Beresford (qv), archbishop of Armagh (1862–85). Andrew G. Malcolm (qv) was yet another descendant.
Gilbert Kennedy secundus entered Glasgow University (1697) and received an MA from Edinburgh University (1699). He was licensed by Armagh presbytery in 1701, and was ordained in Tullylish, Co. Down 23 March 1704; he was acknowledged as a leader of the Old Light, pro-subscription section of presbyterianism, and was elected moderator of general synod in 1720. This was the year in which the first subscription controversy came to a head; synod in June 1720 passed the ‘pacific act’, to allow those who were opposed to the formulation of the Westminster confession to substitute their own wording for any section. A month later, Samuel Haliday (qv), on his installation in First Belfast, availed himself of this permission, but his statement of his position vis-à-vis the Westminster confession enraged the orthodox. In 1722, a pamphlet, New Light set in a clear light, was published anonymously; it was believed then and since that this able reply to the non-subscribers was Kennedy's work. Kennedy's name appears on the title page of A defence of the principles and conduct of the general synod of Ulster . . . (1724), a somewhat prolix work probably written by several ministers, and in 1727 he published A daily directory enlarged, a book of practical religious advice, an expanded republication of the work of Sir William Waller (d. 1668), an English presbyterian and parliamentary leader. Gilbert Kennedy secundus died 8 July 1745 at Tullylish, Co. Down. An engraving of him is said to have been owned by several of the families descended from him. He married Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. George Lang of Newry, Co. Down; their three daughters married ministers, and of their four sons, one, Gilbert Kennedy tertius (1717?–1773) also became a presbyterian minister. He was ordained in 1732 and was minister successively of Lisburn, Killyleagh, and Second Belfast (from 1744); his religious views were the opposite of his father's, and his publications tended to support the liberty of conscience claimed by the non-subscribers. In one published sermon dealing with contemporary politics in France he asked ‘What is life without liberty?’ Despite these views, he was able to remain a member of the general synod, and was in 1763 moderator of the synod of Ulster. He married Elizabeth Trail of Marybrook, Co. Down, and had at least two daughters and a son, James Trail Kennedy, a merchant and a founder member of the Belfast liberal society, the Northern Whig Club. Gilbert Kennedy tertius died in Belfast 12 May 1773.