Who do you think you are Kevin McKenna?

Kevin McKenna at the Hands of History ~ Donegal Diaspora Conference 2014
Kevin McKenna at the Hands of History ~ Donegal Diaspora Conference 2014

In Letterkenny earlier this year (2014) I encountered my own Irishness all over all again. And if a chap is going to do something like that, then is there a better place to do it than Letterkenny? I was honoured to be invited to speak at the Donegal Diaspora Conference, but more than a little dumbfounded at the prospect of speaking with any great enthusiasm about a subject of which I felt under-qualified to speak.

I am a 4th generation Glaswegian Irishman, you see and had long considered that there was probably more Irishness in a badly-sung rebel song at chucking out time than there was in me.

But as one of my friends wisely asked me recently: “So when did the McKenna and the McCabe bloodline stop being Irish?”

The Donegal Irish more or less built Glasgow and constructed its road system. And my city will always partly be defined by those tens of thousands of Irish who came here seeking compassion following An Gorta Mor.

They found it and from many Scottish Protestant households too. These reached out to them in a spirit of basic Christian charity and this is too often overlooked.

I suppose my reluctance to be defined too much by my Irishness stems from a fear of being cast as a ‘Plastic Paddy’, of whom there are many in Glasgow. These are people who suddenly take phantom Confirmation names to themselves. Thus plain old Joseph Patrick McDaid becomes Joseph Patrick Damian Adrian McDaid and usually when some Bacardis have been ingested. I’ve done it myself.

And they insist on supporting Ireland against Scotland at football despite having been born and raised in Scotia and rarely having set foot in the Republic.

But, unexpectedly, Ireland called me back to herself this year and reclaimed me. I even have a scroll with my name on it to prove it:

“The County of Donegal wishes to acknowledge his connection and contribution to Donegal and its diaspora.” I am looking at it hanging on my wall as I write this.

It was as if Ireland was saying: “You don’t have to be singing Molly Malone all the time or even come back to see us all that often. Just know that you will be forever rooted in this soil.”

By Kevin Joseph Patrick Aloysius McKenna.