William Kenealy – William of Munster (1828 -1876) Kilkenny Journalist.
If Kilkenny gave Cloyne Bishop George Berkeley, one of the World’s greatest philosophers, Cloyne returned the compliment by giving us William Kenealy. William was the son of a blacksmith. He became a schoolmaster but was dismissed for writing an “inflammatory pamphlet”. He was rescued by Dr Maginn, the coadjutor bishop of Derry, who made Kenealy a teacher in his diocesan college and then arranged for him to work on The Lamp, a Catholic penny journal published in York, which was founded in 1850 and devoted to literature, science and general instruction. Kenealy returned to Clonmel, to edit the Tipperary Leader, but in 1855 he was prosecuted by a local protestant clergyman who alleged he had been libelled; Kenealy refused to name the journalist responsible for the article and was sent to gaol and sentenced to pay damages which he was unable to meet.
From gaol Kenealy successfully applied to be editor of the Kilkenny Journal, a long established Liberal newspaper which proclaimed “Ireland for the Irish”. Could he have inspired the much later Paul McCartney song on the same theme – Give Ireland back to the Irish? The Journal was owned by Mary Anne Maxwell, the widow of Cornelius Maxwell, who had been a supporter of Daniel O’Connell. A number of men, who later became Fenians were employed on the paper, including the foreman printer John Haltigan, who became the printer of the Irish People. Don’t we have a Haltigan Terrace here in Kilkenny! The writer Charles J. Kickham was another applicant for the post of editor.
In 1858 Kenealy married Rose Maxwell, Mary Anne Maxwell’s daughter, and on their marriage he received a half share in the newspaper. He also had the option to purchase the other half on the decease of his mother-in-law, but in fact he predeceased her.
As well as writing for the Journal he was famous for his songs and poetry. His most famous song, always associated with Kilkenny is The Moon Behind the Hill. He also wrote Address of Brian to his Army
Stand ye now for Erin’s glory! Stand ye now for Erin’s cause!
Long ye’ve groaned beneath the rigour of the Northmen’s savage laws
What though brothers league against us! What though myriads be the foe?
Victory will be more honoured in the myriad’s overthrow.
Men of Erin! Men of Erin! Grasp the battle axe and spear,
Chase these Northmen wolves before you like a herd of frightened deer!
Burst their ranks like bolts from Heaven! Down on the heathen crew
For the glory of the Crucified and Erin’s glory too!
Kenealy was not a Fenian; one of his political aims was to achieve tenant –right through constitutional means. He was an accomplished speaker and his advocacy for tenant – right spread his reputation far beyond Kilkenny. His poetry, writing in the Nation was under the pseudonym William of Munster. He was twice Mayor of Kilkenny in 1872 and 1873. He died in Kilkenny on 5th September 1876 aged 48 years and is buried in St Patrick’s graveyard. Charles Kickham wrote of him in the Kilkenny Journal “Though our opinions on some questions were as wide as the poles asunder, I am happy to think that our friendship was never dimmed … since I first long ago in early manhood made the acquaintance of ‘William of Munster’”.