Did you ever think that you would be associated with a castle? In this family it seems to happen far more we ever thought possible. In the Highlands of Scotland lies the ancestral home of the McKenney Clan.
Originally constructed in the 1200s, it was the stronghold of the Mackenzie (Mc Kenney) Clan who lost control of the castle after their involvement in the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th Century. The castle was blown up in 1719 and reconstructed in the 19th Century. The castle was rebuilt by a rich person and now serves as a popular tourist destination and movie set.
In 13th Century the clan immigrated from Ireland to Kintail, in the County of Ross. The Scottish King Alexander III created this free Baronry of Kintail by Charter on January 8, 1266. It was awarded to Colin Fitzgerald for his assistance in repelling an invasion by the Norwegian King Hako. The grandson of Colin who in Gaelic was called Coinneach Mac Coinnneach (Kenneth son of Kenneth) was the 3rd Baron of Kintail. Coinneach in Gaelic means Fair One; therefore Mac Kenney means Son of the Fair One.This name was eventually corrupted by the English into Mackenzie even though the proper pronunciation is MacKenney. Evidently, the Anglo-Saxon tongue could never pronounce the Gaelic McKenney.
The McKenneys steadily rose to be one of the most important Highland Clans. In 1488, the McKenneys were awarded almost all of the north from the Outer Hebrides to Black Isle on the eastern seaboard. Much of this land was land confiscated from the McDonalds, who were know as the Lord of the Isles. The McDonalds had failed to support the Scottish King and thusly forfeited their lands to the rival McKenneys. The original McKenney base was around Loch Duich and the Eilean Donan Castle until moving to a more central location near modern Inverness.
The McKenneys continued their rise to power in the 16th Century by closely allying themselves with the Stuart monarchs of Scotland and England beginning with the notorious Mary Queen of Scots and the first Scottish King of England, James I. Ultimately, this close alliance and continued support would cost the McKenneys, but for the time it seemed the right thing to do. It is important to remember that Mary was booted out by the Scottish Kirk (Church) that was under control by the father of Scottish Presbyterians, John Knox.
The McKenneys will find it convenient to align themselves with Catholics and then the Anglican Church of the Stuart Kings. It is important to understand this relationship to explain why the American McKenneys end up as pals with the Anglican Lees and Washingtons.
To briefly review English history, with Henry VIII’s death, his sickly son Edward dies after turning his father’s English Catholic Church into an organization in line with what John Calvin and John Knox would have liked. His elder sister, Mary is a devout Catholic and wants to undo the work of her fathers and brother. Known as Bloody Mary, she burned at the stake some 280 religious dissenters (Protestants) during her brief reign. She married Philip of Spain, heir to the superpower of the age, the Habsburg Empire. The courtship was a brief two days. Despite heroic efforts have a child, she fails and dies leaving her half sister, Elizabeth, in line to succeed her. Elizabeth will create a compromise Protestant English Catholic Church with herself as its head. Catholic Philip II of Spain pursues Elizabeth, his dead wife’s half sister. She rejects him and enlists the aide of privateers to steal from Philip. She was tough to get. She also removed her plotting Cousin Mary of Scotland by removing her head. Tudors were tough customers. The family ties to the Tudors are financial as the Greshams (who marry McKenneys in Virginia) as well as political since the O’ Rourkes came under direct English rule during Elizabeth’s reign in Queen’s County west of Dublin.
Following the death of the Virgin Queen (Guess what state is named after her?), we are fresh out of Tudors. Parliament turns to the Stuarts of Scotland who are the next most likely candidates. The Catholic leaning Stuarts soon ran afoul of an increasingly pushy House of Commons that was dominated by Protestant dissenters who thought Elizabeth’s compromise church was too Catholic. As the Stuarts seemed to favor Catholics and also controlled the established Anglican Church, relationships hardened to the point of Civil War. Supporters of the crown will eventually become known as Cavaliers and after losing the English Civil War in 1649, many will emigrate to Virginia. The Scottish McKenney’s were among this bunch. Most of our families’ English Dissenters (Puritans) will pick up and head to New England at this time.
William McKenney (1622-1683) , Peggy’s 10th great grandfather, will provide the Isle of Skye as his last mailing address before landing in Virginia. His son, another William is born in 1650 on the Isle of Skye and leaves with his father. He will have a William (actually there will be five in a row) born in Virginia. More on this bunch and the relationship with George Washington later. The specific McKenney clan branch is uncertain. There were a bunch of them. After reading two genealogies of the family, I have concluded that there are Williams in almost every root and branch. The branch most closely identified with the Isle of Skye hung out around Eilean Donan (see castle above) which lies a few miles east of Skye.
This brings us back to kilts.
The family McKenney’s left Scotland in the mid 1600s. The kilts of that day were still of the cloak over a tunic design. Since they wove in plaid designs, you could describe them as men in plaid (Sorry). These tunics were usually made of seven yards of woolen cloth and worked as wearable sleeping bags. Useful when you spend a good deal of time raiding and cattle rustling across the damp Highlands. These robes bore little relationship to today’s kilts. The small, half kilt developed after our McKenney’s left but those who stayed certainly adapted the latest fashions.
Until the 19th Century the tartan patterns associated with “clans” today were associated with regions, not specific clans. Clans usually wore badges, like a plant or ribbon, to identify their clan loyalty. After the firing of James II by Parliament in 1688, the Stuarts led uprisings in Scotland. After the devastating defeat of the Scottish clans who supported the Bonnie Prince Charlie (Stuart) at Culloden in 1746, the clans were suppressed.
The suppression included the MacKenzies, as the McKenneys were now know. Another result was the development of a dress code that outlawed all this clan paraphernalia, including the kilt. Exceptions were made for the Highlander Regiments that were created to absorb Highland energies and excess males. The ban was lifted in 1782 and kilts became the rage under encouragement of Romantics like Sir Walter Scott (Rob Roy,etc.). Lowland Scots, some 90% of the Scottish population, were encouraged to wear stylized versions of Highland dress. The pageantry associated with a visit by King George IV in 1822 led to adoption of faux Highland dress as being symbolic of all Scotland. Queen Victoria sealed the deal by dressing her English boys in Scottish garb. We too are not immune to this romanticism and managed to pick up a fair amount of MacKenzie plaid.
Actually there is more to “tartanology” than I care to learn but here are the old old and the newer.