THE people of Dingle and West Kerry bade a sad farewell on Friday to Canon Jackie McKenna of Dykegate Lane and Baile na Buaile who was laid to rest in the grounds of St Mary's Church in Dingle.
Canon Jackie (92) was the wearer of many hats - as a respected member of the clergy, an accomplished sportsman, a prominent historian and scholar of note who was known and respected throughout the county and beyond.
He served in many parishes during his ecclesiastical tenure: as Canon of Castletownbere (1981-1994) and Sneem (19751981) where he was the chief celebrant at the State funeral of former President Cearbhaill Ó Dálaigh in 1978. He also served as CC in Abbeydorney (19631975), Dingle (1961-1963) and Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (19471951) where he administered to parishioners on the Great Blasket before the island's evacuation in 1953. Canon Jackie also served as Chaplain to Coláiste Íde from 1951-1961 and again in 1994 after he retired to his native Dingle.
Fellow scholar and former Maynooth Professor of both Old and Modern Irish, Monsignor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta (86) of An Díseart recalls Canon Jackie as a gentle and thoughtful individual of great talent and ability.
"All his life he was very interested in the Irish language and music; during his time serving as Chaplin in Coláiste Íde he introduced the students to classical music, ballet and the arts," he said. "His work in the parish of Ballyferriter really helped to preserve and promote the Irish language and his knowledge when it came to the locale was second to none. Culturally, he was an eloquent advocate."
Canon Jackie's legacy is also recounted in the history of Kerry GAA. He was the last surviving member of the historic team that secured Dingle's first county senior football championship in 1938, replicating that success in the years that followed, accumulating five senior football championship medals in total.
"By 1938, and still only 17 years of age, he held a Kerry Senior Championship having played his part in the first Dingle team to realise that achievement," said Cathaoirleach of CLG Daingean Uí Chúis, Mícheál Ó Conchúr. "He went on to win five county championships, played Kerry Minor and Senior, and his performances in 1943 and 1944 are still recalled as he starred in one of the greatest club teams."
"He had a huge interest in gaelic football and he journeyed from Maynooth during his holiday periods from study to play with Dingle," Monsignor Ó Fiannachta added. "He also set the wheels in motion to develop football in An Ghaeltacht by establishing a primary schools league while serving in Ballyferriter in the 1940s."
While serving as Parish Priest in Abbeydorney, Canon McKenna served as President of Abbeydorney GAA, where he also displayed a deep interest in hurling.
"His love of GAA was something that endured throughout his life and he maintained a keen interest in the development of the game, traveling to attend as many St Brendan's and Dingle CBS games as he could," said the Monsignor. "At one time, when I was home from college, Jackie asked me would I go and play with Dingle. There were many tough men playing at that time; a ball came in, I went up for it but came down like a sack of spuds as Paddy Bawn, who was playing at full back, fell down on top of me. I broke two ribs but told nobody – I played on, I wanted to impress. Jackie said I was 'fair enough' on the day so I was happy with that!"
When it came to history, Canon Jackie was, in the Monsignor's words, "a true scholar in every sense of the word" and he would frequent the library at Maynooth to research manuscripts and the work of Irish language scholars, in particular the works of Piaras Firtear.
Tom Fox of the Dingle Historical Society said Canon Jackie will be remembered for his lifelong interest in Dingle's history.
"His book 'Dingle', first published in the early 1980s – which was reprinted in 1985 and again in the 1990s - is looked upon as a ' bible when one needs to know something on Dingle's story," he said. "It was he who constantly researched Dingle's link with Marie Antoinette which culminated in Dingle Historical Society placing a plaque on the Rice House in 2010."
"Also, the Spanish Ambassador to Ireland, Her Excellency Dona Mercedes Rico, was assisted by Canon Jack McKenna in cutting the ribbon on a bronze plaque which commemorates The 1529 Treaty of Dingle - signed by the Earl of Desmond and the ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor - which gave Irish people citizenship rights in Europe more than 400 years before the EU was founded. He was a founding member of Dingle Historical Society in 2004 and served as its president since then. He was also a past president of Kerry Historical Society."
Canon Jackie was very much loved in his home-place and Monsignor Ó Fiannachta described the esteem in which he was held. "He was very thoughtful and mannerly; a very considerate man who was supremely attentive in every aspect of his duties," he said. "Canon Jackie was very spiritual, gentle, softly-spoken and he exuded great warmth."
"He influenced his congregation greatly and his legacy is ensured as he impressed by his kindness, friendliness and generosity of spirit. He will be remembered fondly by so many who will no doubt pass on the story of his many feats."
Rev Canon Jackie McKenna, passed away on January 22 at Our Lady of Fatima Home, Oakpark, Tralee. He reposed at his home in Dykegate Lane, Dingle last Thursday after which he was removed to St Mary's Church, flanked by a guard of honour organised by members of Dingle GAA.
Following a very beautiful Requiem Mass, which was widely attended by members of the Kerry Diocese, he was laid to rest in the grounds of St Mary's Church, Dingle.
He was predeceased by his brothers Maurice, Jimmy, Tommy and Paddy and by his sisters Kathleen (Roche) and Mary (Quinn).