Kennedy, Sir Robert (c. 1584–1668) baronet, landowner, member of parliament and exchequer official, was the eldest son of Robert Kennedy of Dublin (probably descended from the O’Kennedys of Tipperary). Little is known of Robert’s early life, and he is occasionally confused with yet another Robert Kennedy, a merchant and alderman (d.1624) who was likely his second cousin, once removed.
As a middle-ranking person, Robert Kennedy depended on networking to progress at the Irish court and build his estates. He is first recorded as the second chamberlain of the Irish exchequer in 1602; he progressed to become the chief chamberlain in 1612, and chief remembrancer in 1625. His acceptance of these posts required a conversion from catholicism to protestantism by swearing the oath of supremacy. Sir James Carroll (qv) appears to have been his patron in the exchequer, likely securing the first two exchequer posts and is known to have provided the remembrancership by reversion. Carroll also set him on the Dublin property ladder, while Sir William Parsons (qv) facilitated his later land acquisitions outside of Dublin, providing an entrée to Parsons’s personal network as well as access to the leading men in Dublin’s city and colonial governments. Parsons was part of the Buckingham ‘connection’, a group aligned with a favourite of James I, which facilitated financial and land transactions for mutual benefit.
Though Kennedy’s younger brothers, John and Walter, remained catholic, they played a significant role in his network. John joined him in exchequer offices, and later as joint chief remembrancer (though apparently without taking the oath), while Walter’s success as a merchant provided trading connections and access to cash loans, when needed. Kennedy’s marriage in c. 1614 to Constance Sulliard, granddaughter of alderman Ralph Sankey, further extended his network via her six siblings and their marriage partners. Among these were John ap Hugh (alias Pue), a recently arrived Welshman, Pierce Talbot of Rathdown, Edward Archer of Mount John in Co. Wicklow, the Lees of London, and Charles Smith of Dublin. Constance appears to have died of the plague in the early 1650s, though the couple had six children before then: Sylvester, Richard, Thomas, Mary, Brigit and Catherine. Sylvester and Thomas died childless. Kennedy later married for a second time, to Elizabeth, daughter of Christopher Perceval. He was her fourth husband; they had no children, and she died in 1658.
Kennedy and his family resided at St Nicholas Street in Dublin from the early 1610s. Over the course of the next fifty years, Robert and his son Richard gained possession of the seven houses on the east side of this street, evidently rebuilding most, if not all of them. Having also gained possession of Jenefields Inns, with its sizable garden behind these houses, the family tore down some of the houses as well as the Inns in the 1660s and built a mansion set back from the street.
Kennedy made use of king’s letters to obtain various parcels of land in Munster and Leinster, which he quickly sold on for profit. He also was appointed a burgess for Newborough, Co. Wexford (later Gorey), bought land in Co. Longford with his brother John, and was assigned a plantation grant in Queen’s County (Co. Laois). In addition, via his Parsons connection, he bought several wardships, the most important of which was that of the son of Robert Kennedy (d.1624). As this Kennedy, an alderman and merchant, had been one of the wealthiest men in Dublin at the time, it provided a significant boost to his resources. By the mid-1620s Kennedy had accumulated enough wealth to start providing mortgages to the leading gentlemen of the O’Byrne country in north Co. Wicklow. Anticipating that they would default on their mortgages, Kennedy was also one of the first to obtain land from this Gaelic population, who had lived in this area since at least the 1300s. By the mid-1630s, he had gained about 6,500 acres of land.
As was the case for so many others, Sir Thomas Wentworth’s (qv) lord deputyship marked a negative turn in Kennedy’s fortunes. Wentworth removed both him and his brother John from their appointments as chief remembrancer, thus ending Kennedy’s connection with the exchequer after more than thirty years. In order to survive, Kennedy probably provided legal advice and lobbying services to willing clients. He also evidently employed a farm manager on his Wicklow estate, which soon began to produce a good income. When both Sylvester, his eldest son, and Richard, his second son, returned from their legal training at Lincoln’s Inn in London, the family business would have provided legal services as well.
With the outbreak of rebellion in late November 1641, Kennedy suffered the loss of his farm income and rents from tenants. His buildings were destroyed and his tower house undermined, and the 1640s were a lean decade for the family. Nonetheless, Robert sat in the Irish parliament as MP for Kildare town from 1643. He appears to have attended regularly and was named to several committees. He was joined in the house of commons by his sons Sylvester (died c. 1652) and, briefly, Richard, who was elected to the borough of Mullingar in 1647. Richard and another of Kennedy’s sons, Thomas, joined opposing sides in the Confederate wars; when the parliamentarians triumphed, Richard was rewarded with land in several counties, and was able to protect the family’s holdings in Wicklow. He also acted as counsel for Sir Phelim O’Neill (qv) during his trial in 1652, in which the outcome was all but predetermined. Oliver Cromwell’s (qv) death prompted Richard to adopt a royalist stance, and he travelled with other leading Irish protestants to London to request the return of Charles II. He sat in the Dublin Convention in 1660. As a reward for his efforts, he was given an additional 6,500 acres of land, made a knight and appointed as the second baron of the exchequer, along with an office in the court of wards. The youngest son, Thomas, was given a court post in reward for his service under James Butler, earl of Ormond (qv).
Robert Kennedy was made a baronet of Newtown-Mount Kennedy and the estate created the manor of Mount Kennedy in 1665. He died in 1668 and is buried in the old Delgany graveyard, Wicklow. Having initially descended to Robert’s eldest son, Richard, the manor was subjected to protracted legal disputes during the eighteenth century. In 1769, it was sold to General Robert Cunningham, who was later elevated to the peerage as Baron Rossmore.