McKenna, Lambert (Mac Cionnaith, Láimhbheartach) (1870–1956), Irish-language scholar and catholic social thinker, was born 16 July 1870 in Clontarf, Co. Dublin, son of Andrew McKenna, accountant, and Mary McKenna (née Lambert). Having attended Belvedere College, Dublin, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1886 and studied at the order's novitiates in Dromore, Co. Down, and Tullabeg, King's Co. (Offaly), before graduating with a BA in Irish and classics from the Royal University (1893) and taking an MA (1895). After further study in scholastic philosophy and theology he was ordained in 1905 and subsequently taught at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Mungret College, Limerick.
Lambert McKenna's English–Irish phrase dictionary was published in 1911, but it was the classical bardic language rather than the modern vernacular that principally engaged his attention, and from 1916 onwards he published numerous editions of bardic poems in Studies and the Irish Monthly – a journal that he edited in 1922–31. McKenna's edition of Iomarbhágh na bhfileadh (the ‘bardic contention’) was published in 1918, and his editions of the poetry of Aonghas Fionn Ó Dálaigh (qv), Donnchadh Mór Ó Dálaigh (qv), and Philip Bocht Ó hUiginn (qv) followed in 1919, 1922, and 1931 respectively. He spent four years compiling the state-sponsored Foclóir Béarla agus Gaedhilge (1935), but the dictionary's scope was largely confined to the colloquial language of the Gaeltacht and it failed to provide Irish equivalents of many modern terms and concepts. His Dioghluim dána (1938) and Aithdhioghluim dána (1939–40) were substantial anthologies of bardic poems by various authors.
McKenna was an advocate of the social principles of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum. Lenten lectures that he delivered in Limerick in 1913 were published by the Irish Messenger in its ‘social action’ series of pamphlets under such titles as The church and labour and The church and working men. In The social teachings of James Connolly (1920), McKenna argued (p. 7) that James Connolly's (qv) voice was ‘ever the voice of Tone or Fintan Lalor, though his words are often the words of Marx’. During the 1920s he wrote in the pages of Studies about such recent events as the Russian revolution, the short-lived communist revolutions in Hungary and Bavaria, and the Mexican revolution. In 1925–6 he chaired a national conference on the use of Irish in the schools, convened by the Department of Education, and its recommendations on the increased use of the language as a medium of instruction were accepted by the minister, John Marcus O'Sullivan (qv).
McKenna retained his intellectual vigour at an advanced age, and three works that he edited were published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies when he was in his 70s: Bardic syntactical tracts (1944) and two bardic duanairí (poem-books) – The book of Magauran (1947) and The book of O'Hara (1951). He was awarded the degree of D.Litt.Celt. honoris causa in 1947. McKenna spent the latter part of his life in the Jesuits' house of studies at Lower Leeson St., Dublin, and died in Dublin on 26 December 1956.