Kenny, Desmond Warren (1917–91), co-founder of Kenny's Bookshop and Art Gallery, was born 13 October 1917 in Galway city, second son and fourth among six children of Cork-born Thomas Joseph Warren Kenny, founding editor of the Connacht Tribune newspapers, and Katherine Kenny (née Hunt), milliner, from Kilkenny. His father married a second time and had a son, Ivor Kenny, who became a distinguished author, academic, and company director. The family lived at 6 The Crescent, Galway, and Desmond was educated locally at Coláiste Iognáid (1929–36) and at UCG (1936–9), where he obtained his BA degree. He was a fluent Irish speaker and his first job was with his father's newspaper as Irish language editor. As a journalist of high standards and a founding member of the Irish Tourist Association, his father played a significant part in developing his children's interest and appreciation of Irish literature and the arts in general.
He married (18 February 1940) Maureen (1918–2008), daughter of George and Jane Canning of Glebe Street, Mohill, Co. Leitrim, soon after their graduation. She was a recipient of a scholarship to UCG and they met on their first day in college, thus marking the beginning of a long and close relationship. Both wished to remain in Galway although jobs were scarce, and at the suggestion of a Jesuit friend they opened a bookshop (November 1940). They worked as a team in building it to a success: he was the dreamer and she was practical. The bank gave them a £100 overdraft and they rented two small rooms on High St. in Galway, one for living accommodation and the other for the shop. Initially, their stock of books was supplied by supportive family and friends, and several strategies were adopted to make a living from the business, such as the establishment of a lending library and the sale both of secondhand school books and of limited editions of contemporary prints. Kenny's sister Peggy was married to Walter Macken (qv) and they published his Oidhroacht na mara (1944), considered a literary landmark. Soon after the birth of their first son, Thomas (February 1944), they moved to Kingshill, Salthill, Galway, and thus were able to expand the shop. To supplement the family income Desmond took up a position as personnel manager with Galway Textile Printers (early 1950s); he soon became export manager, and when he left (late 1960s) was general manager. He worked weekends in the shop or went to country house library auctions, among them Dromoland, and these collections formed a significant part of their stock. Soon it took him only ten minutes to assess a library. A library bought sight unseen often contained surprises, and there was always great anticipation and excitement unloading the car. Meanwhile his wife, a fountain of knowledge when it came to books (particularly those related to Irish literature and culture), kept the shop going while rearing their family. Indeed, the house in Salthill was almost an extension of the shop, with books filling all the corners. They introduced arts and crafts into the business, and soon artists were arriving to show their work between the bookshelves. Many exhibitions were held such as that of Mabel Young (qv), which was opened by her husband Paul Henry (qv). They printed their first book catalogue (1959), just 100 copies, and this marked the beginnings of an export market. In the late 1960s, when their son Thomas had finished university, Kenny gave up his job in the textile firm and could work full-time in the shop, and he and his son went on buying trips to the UK. He had learned a lot in the firm about export and the importance of showcasing. They published their first Irish-language book catalogue in 1966. Around this time a photograph was taken of Liam O'Flaherty (qv) on the occasion of his birthday (80 years), when he danced a jig in the shop, and thereafter a veritable pictorial archive of Irish literature was accumulated on the walls, with every writer asked to sign his/her photograph. Eventually the living room and hall in Kingshill served as a gallery, and the first exhibition in Salthill was of the works of Seán Keating (qv). Among others, solo shows by George Campbell and John Behan followed.
During the 1970s five of the Kenny children, Thomas, Desmond, Gerard, Conor (all subsequently directors), and Monica (secretary) were gradually involved in the business, each finding and developing their own niche. For example, Gerard completed a bookbinding apprenticeship in Dublin and opened a book bindery (1974) at the back of the house in Salthill. One daughter, Jane, a psychologist, opted for teaching instead. In the early 1980s the Kennys could expand when they bought the High St. premises, a large medieval building, and an adjoining building in Middle St., and moved the gallery there (1984). Kenny made frequent sales trips to the US, and when the United States Library of Congress chose Kenny's as their Irish suppliers after an arduous interview with eight librarians, many other libraries followed suit (they later supplied over 300 libraries throughout North America). Kenny made the valuable discovery of the ‘Trumbull papers’ (1985), a rare collection of business papers of a wholesale tobacconist in Dublin, which were sold to the New York Public Library.
Kenny was a good conversationalist who enjoyed chatting with customers new and old alike. He played golf regularly and was captain and president of Galway golf club. A keen swimmer, he became involved in water safety when his son Thomas nearly drowned, eventually becoming the national chairman of the Irish Water Safety Association. His involvement with many charitable associations, particularly Our Lady's Boys Club, was acknowledged when he received a papal honour, the Bene Merenti medal for his services to the community. He and his wife liked to holiday abroad; on one occasion in Rome they had an audience with Pope John Paul II and books came into the conversation, as the pope had read the historical trilogy by Walter Macken in Polish. They celebrated fifty years in business (1990) in a fitting way with an exhibition of portraits of 101 Irish writers by contemporary artists, titled ‘Faces in a bookshop’, which was opened by President Patrick Hillery. The Galway Chamber of Commerce and Industry presented them with a special commemorative piece of Royal Tara china, the first presentation of its kind by the chamber (1990). Desmond Kenny became ill and died some months later on 6 October 1991 in Galway, leaving behind him a great legacy to his family and the city of Galway. He was buried at the New Cemetery, Bohermore.