Kenny, Kevin John (1881–1954), advertising pioneer, commercial manager and publisher, was born on 22 June 1881 at 12 Upper Dorset Street, Dublin, one of eight children of Michael C. Kenny, a lithographic printer and Fenian, and Catherine Kenny (née Fleming), a book-folder (cloth checker). Kenny's career illustrates practical aspects of the independence movement. Described by D. P. Moran (qv) in 1905 as having a 'go ahead, enterprising spirit', Kenny had sold space for the Irish Wheelman before taking charge of advertising at Moran's new periodical, the Leader, for the first four years of its existence. Patrick Maume has written that the influential Leader 'was sustained by a systematic pursuit of Irish advertising', and Moran publicly acknowledged Kenny's role in its success (Maume, 13).
By 1902 Kenny had established his own business in Abbey Street, Dublin, which quickly grew into Ireland's first full-service advertising agency. For over a decade he produced the Irish Manufacturers' Directory, Ireland's first regular listing of its kind. An early member of the Industrial Development Association, he was in 1908, with Arthur Griffith (qv) and Seán Mac Diarmada (qv), among the members of the first Aonach committee, promoting Irish goods. He spoke Irish.
Kenny worked as the commercial manager on projects of eminent nationalists. Thus, for example, he produced for Griffith's Sinn Féin in 1910 and 1911 its Leabhar na hÉireann: the Irish year book, the former of which included an unusual early essay on the role of advertising in economic development. He solicited advertising for both An Macaomh of Patrick Pearse (qv) and the Irish Citizen of Francis (qv) and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (qv), as well as being business manager for the Nationist of Tom Kettle (qv) and for the Peasant, a radical periodical that ultimately fell foul of the catholic bishops. In an apparent paradox, his agency's institutional clients then included the RIC. Later, Pierce's of Wexford and Pratts (Esso) were among its many commercial accounts.
He was long associated with Ishbel Gordon (qv), philanthropist and feminist wife of Lord Lieutenant Aberdeen (qv), being, for example, the commercial manager of the Dublin Civic Exhibition that she chaired in 1914, and producing Sláinte, journal of the Women's National Health Association, which she edited and used to promote her anti-tuberculosis campaign. He was said to have refused a knighthood (Ir. Times, 21 September 1954).
When the great war broke out, Irish admen pressed the government to spend its recruitment budget for Ireland through Irish rather than English agencies, and Kenny's agency was subsequently asked to mount a campaign in 1915. However, this rebounded by attracting criticism when Laurence Ginnell (qv), MP, claimed in the house of commons that such expenditure was intended to secure for the government the support of newspapers.
Kenny was a founding member of the Publicity Club of Ireland and of the Irish Association of Advertising Agencies (latterly, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI)), and among those whom his advertising agency employed were Brian O'Kennedy and Charlie McConnell (qv), both of whom went on to found their own advertising agencies. The republican socialist Frank Ryan (qv) worked part-time as a copywriter for Kenny.
Kenny had a printing press, publishing among other works a popular comedy play, 'The Pope in Killybuck' (sometimes billed as 'The auction in Killybuck') by District Justice Louis J. Walsh (qv). This became 'famous', wrote the Irish Times, 'a prime favourite of Ulster people of all creeds' (Ir. Times, 28 December 1942). Other publications included A book of Dublin, for Dublin Corporation in 1927, illustrated by Harry Kernoff (qv) and Maurice MacGonigal (qv) and edited by Bulmer Hobson (qv). Lay and clerical catholics attacked the first edition of this city guide as 'anti-national' on the grounds that it included a disproportionate number of references to Anglo-Irish institutions. When in 1917 Kenny published Crissie Doyle's Women in ancient and modern Ireland, Grace Gifford Plunkett (qv) was its illustrator.
A leading member, with Fr Thomas Finlay (qv), of the Catholic Association, and later general treasurer of the Knights of Saint Columbanus, Kenny was a catholic social activist. In the 1923 general election he stood as an 'independent businessman' in the Dublin North (city) constituency, being one of just two candidates there to support demands by the Legion of Irish Ex-Service Men for equitable treatment of former members of the British army. He was not elected, but General Richard Mulcahy (qv) and Kenny's friend Alfie Byrne (qv), future lord mayor of Dublin, topped the poll. Kenny campaigned for better housing for Dublin's poor and was chairman of the 'children's fresh air fund', which between 1919 and 1939 reportedly sent some 13,000 children from the slums of the city for a fortnight's holiday in the country.
In 1931 Kenny was elected president of the Dublin Rotary club, the first Rotary club active outside the United States. Another of that club's presidents described him as 'our Nelson Pillar of sense and shrewdness' (Grehan, 225–6). He used his inaugural address to rebut allegations by some priests that Rotary International was anti-catholic. In 1936 he managed a unique exhibition of Irish manufactured goods, which took place on board the SS California in New York harbour, as a means of circumventing protectionist restrictions on the promotion of foreign trade in the USA. He was appointed (1910) honorary vice-consul for Chile in Ireland, and was later honorary vice-consul for Portugal.
Kenny married Annette Murphy of Tralee on St Bridget's Day (1 February) 1910. The couple had five children: Kevin, senior counsel and part-time professor of property and equity at UCD until his death in 1966; Kathleen, who married Dr P. J. Kelly; Colum, an adman; Maura, a Dominican sister in England; and Michael, who succeeded his father as managing director of the family's advertising agency. Kevin J. Kenny died 14 September 1954 in the Bon Secours nursing home, Glasnevin, Dublin.