Kenny, Patrick Dermott (1862–1944), journalist and cultural critic, was born at Lismagansion, Dugorry, Aghamore, near Kilkelly in south-east Mayo, where his parents farmed 33 acres. He knew some Irish. Kenny claimed he received only one year's formal education at the local national school. In 1882 he emigrated to England as a labourer. In Lancashire he acted as spokesman for a group of migrants. A Lancashire farmer helped him obtain further education; he became a commercial traveller, saved money, and studied economics at Manchester University. In 1896 the Manchester Statistical Society published his booklet How to stop strikes.
After graduation Kenny became a Glasgow journalist. In 1896–7 he edited the short-lived Newcastle Daily News. He moved to London as a journalist and theatre critic, and was living in Brighton when his father died in debt in 1901. Kenny used his savings to clear the debts and purchase the fee-simple of his father's property. Leaving the house to a brother and his family (he subsequently quarrelled with them and expelled them), he lived in a tent for two years and surveyed the farm. Kenny decided to raise money for improvements through journalism, and became one of the most controversial commentators in Edwardian Ireland.
In 1903 he published a pamphlet, Connaught ranging: I How we drink: II How we think, calculating that the Kilkelly area spent several times as much on drink as on rent. His denunciations of his neighbours as lazy, ignorant, and politically oppressive created a storm locally. He also began a lifelong habit of litigation over minor local disputes; his vanity, provocative rhetoric, neat dress, and anglicised accent made him a local ‘character’.
However, many separatists and Irish-Irelanders shared his hostility to the drink trade and the Irish party, and his desire for greater national productivity. Between 1902 and 1905 Kenny wrote for the Leader, the journal of D. P. Moran (qv), under his characteristic pseudonym, ‘Pat’, presenting himself as a plain, utilitarian Irishman. The Dominican Irish Rosary serialised his Economics for Irishmen, which glorified the work ethic. (A chapter defending the claim of Sir Horace Plunkett (qv) that the clergy hindered economic development was added to the book version, published in 1905.)
In 1903 Kenny became editor of the Irish Peasant, a weekly founded in Navan by the Dublin stockbroker James McCann (qv). Kenny befriended Michael Davitt (qv); in the last year of Davitt's life they planned various journalistic and political collaborations, notably a campaign in favour of secular education. Kenny always spoke of Davitt with respect. Kenny's anti-clericalism antagonised the local clergy, and in December 1905 he was replaced as editor by W. P. Ryan (qv), but continued to write a column, ‘Patriana’. Kenny's calls for Ireland to modernise along British lines clashed with Ryan's mixture of catholic modernism and cultural nationalism, but their shared support for secular education led to the suppression of the Irish Peasant because of religious and commercial pressure on the McCanns by Cardinal Michael Logue (qv) in December 1906. Kenny's views also hastened the collapse of The Nationist (1905–6), a weekly founded by Tom Kettle (qv) with Kenny on its editorial staff.
Kenny attended the opening night of Synge's (qv) Playboy of the western world (1907). He defended the play as an accurate representation of the frustrations of Connacht life, and chaired a debate about the play, held in the Abbey. Soon afterwards he announced his conversion to unionism, and contributed to the London Saturday Review. Some of these articles were collected as The sorrows of Ireland (1907). Kenny cooperated with Walter Long (qv) on the Irish chapter of the Saturday Review handbook for unionist candidates (1909). He revelled in insulting and provocative language about the Irish peasantry, the Irish party, and the clergy, whom he described as the puppet-masters of Irish life; his complaints of persecution apparently mix genuine incidents and paranoid delusions. Kenny argued (as before) that the key to Ireland's problems was not land ownership but better agricultural methods, holding up his own farm as a model. His claims are summarised in My little farm (1915); despite some exaggeration, it appears he had some success with new agricultural methods, but the farm was heavily subsidised by his journalism.
In 1910 Kenny reported on political events in Mayo for London tory papers, praising Conor O'Kelly, a Mayo home rule MP who clashed with the party leadership and the local clergy. In mid 1910 Kenny was attacked at mass in Aghamore, narrowly escaping injury; after this he ceased to attend mass.
From 1910 his principal London journalistic outlet was the Outlook, a unionist weekly owned by the Guinness family. The war interrupted his income from journalism, causing difficulties with creditors; his claims of agricultural success proved embarrassing. Kenny supported conscription; during the war of independence he openly criticised Sinn Féin and maintained social contact with British officers at Claremorris. His farm was attacked and most of his moveable property stolen or destroyed (possibly by cattle-drivers rather than the IRA). Kenny claimed the Free State government obstructed his compensation claims.
In 1927 Kenny published a pamphlet, Five years of Irish ‘freedom’, ridiculing the new state and its repressive tendencies but hoping self-government might eventually curb church power. Occasional articles in the conservative English Review between 1927 and 1931 repeat stock loyalist criticisms of the Free State.
In 1928 Kenny stood for Mayo county council. He received a derisory vote but established a ‘Land League’ in November 1929; it had about twenty activists and held several meetings. Its programme combined some of Kenny's preoccupations (such as education) with rural complaints about taxation and calls for small government. In January 1931 it chose Kenny as its dáil candidate, but split and disappeared soon afterwards.
In 1930 his house burned down, with his library, which he valued at £450. He occasionally wrote to local newspapers and retained a few literary contacts, notably Arland Ussher (qv), who saw him as Ireland's premature Luther. His last years were spent in poverty as a recluse on his farm, where he died of a heart attack on 31 July 1944. He never married. Angry, egotistical, opportunistic, and increasingly demented, Kenny was nonetheless a significant critic of the frustrations of rural Ireland.