Kennedys of Cultra

And other Kennedy family papers at PRONI, Belfast

Copyright © Iain Kennedy 24th January 2008

I have now examined all the main collections of Kennedy papers held at the Public Record Office of Norther Ireland (PRONI), Belfast. Of chief interest are those relating to the Cultra, Co. Down family who trace their origins back to c. 1670 when they came into possession of these lands; they held them until recently when the remaining sisters moved out and the house now hosts the Ulster Folk Museum. Although my main interest lay in the origins of this family (possibly back in Scotland) the papers (D686) were disappointing and mostly dated from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There are 29 items in total, which are as follows - items in bold have been examined to date.

PRONI D686 Kennedy of Cultra:

/1 Marr. Settlement John Kennedy Elizabeth Coles, 22 Sep 1774

/2 Elizabeth Coles recollections book

/3 Matild Charlotte Stewart commonplace book

/4 Commonplace book

/5 Tenants presentation to Mrs Kennedy, 55 sigs, 9 Aug 1902

/6 Tenants letter to Robert Kennedy, 80 sigs, 1904

/7 Marr settlement John Ward Bangor Castle Catherine Pensam, 1820

/8 Accounts 1834-87

/9 Rentals 1852,1860, 1881

/10 Sale of Burgagery lands of Cashel Co. Tipperary, 25 Nov 1859

/11 Robert Kennedy commission Royal North Down Regt of Rifles, 27 Mar 1871

/12 Robert Kennedy commission of peace, 1877

/13 Robert Kennedy Foreign Office corr., Bulgaria, 1883

/14 Wills (2) Catherine Anne (Ward) Kennedy 19 Jan 1885, 2 Oct 1895

/15 Devotional memoranda

/16 Building expenses

/17 Prospecting for water

/18 Correspondence, family affairs

/19-28 Navigational nchart, house plans etc

Here are some further descriptions of some of the items which proved to be of interest.

D686/2 Elizabeth (Coles) Kennedy recollections book. The book appears to have been reused as William Kennedy exercise book commencing 1802 and has some arithmetic exercises at the front. Beyond that are the diary pages of his mother. After noting that she was born in Fermanagh 6th Nov 1755 and recording the loss of her father 11th Nov 1770, most of the remainder records the births, marriages and careers (and sadly, deaths) of her children; and the death of her husband John Kennedy in 1801, in his 56th year of life. A typical poignant entry reads:

'On the 26th August 1804 it pleased almighty God I doubt not for good service to remove the dearest ever Henry ... at Calcutta after a short illness of 3 days.'

The notes on the children have been annotated in pencil with later information about deaths etc, the author of these notes is not clear. They may not be reliable; in one I cross-checked against the diary itself, they disagreed.

D686/14 Two wills of Catherine Anne (Ward) Kennedy. Written in 1885 and 1895 respectively as a widow by then residing at 4 Onslow Crescent London, ('widow of Robert Stewart Kennedy, late of Cultra'). The two wills are very similar and essentially left the estate to her son Robert John Kennedy and all monies and other personal items to her daughter Grace Emily Kennedy.

D686/10 Most odd of all is the revelation that the Cultra Kennedys held lands in Cashel, in the heart of the Irish O'Kennedys. From what I can make out, this is just an odd coincidence; from information in the sales document which includes lease history, it appears that they acquired this land either in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. At least this avoided the ignominy of a Scottish Kennedy depriving an Irish Kennedy of his ancient land holdings. A sample lot description is:

'Lot 4 - excellent meadow and tillage commanding fine mountain scenery and beautiful views of the Rock of Cashel'.

Other Kennedy family papers

T790 contains the pedigree chart only, from Major Francis Kennedy's book on the Kennedys of Clogher. This book and chart can be seen elsewhere - if in Belfast you can see it at the Linen Hall library or it can be viewed at the National Library in Edinburgh. The origins of this family are lost in the mists of time around the same period that the Cultra Kennedy trail goes cold. Too much is probably made of the armorial devices on the Kennedy graves at Clogher cathedral, which can be seen in the photograph in the Clogher cathedral inscriptions book - again this can be seen in central Belfast or Edinburgh.


/1 1153-1852 Kennedy family of Ayrshire Scotland genealogy table with notes. This is a 60 page document consisting of 48 pages of pedigree charts plus lengthy notes, based partly on the research of the Rev. J. Kennedy-Baillie. The modern part of the chart is hard to follow as its rather scrunched up, and lacks key dates etc. It appears to illustrate the claim that the Rev. Thomas and Gilbert Kennedy of Ulster are descended from the Craigoch branch of the noble family, and not as more frequently claimed, from the Cassillis branch. Proofs are sorely lacking although a lengthy passage states otherwise.

/2 1628-1836 same, part only [??]

/3 1849 'Historical acct. with notes of principal cadets' - a copy of the well known Kennedy history. Can be seen elsewhere more easily.

T3152 Emigration correspondence and misc. papers of the Kennedy family 1865-1912. Submitted by an Alfred Kennedy; includes a 1910 letter from William Kennedy of 1609 Long Beach California to his brother in Ireland; and a letter from 1912 from a Hugh Kennedy of Palmerston Ave. Toronto to his mother in Ireland. This includes a description of a sea passage from Belfast to the New World on 20th April 1912 [?] in which he states 'the greater number of passengers were Scotch coal miners'.