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Face to Face with Benny McKenna For over 30 years one of the big events in the life of Donagh Parish was the annual Boy Scouts Gang Show, which was normally held in the month of January. It never failed to draw the crowds and always played to a packed hall. The one man responsible for it all was Benny McKenna, Leader of St Patrick’s Troop of Boys Scouts, Donagh, Co. Monaghan. Family Background. Benny was born in Aghaliskeevan, Truagh, the son of Johnny McKenna and Minnie, nee Murray from Corraclare. Johnny was originally from Annagha, but moved to Aghaliskeevan after his marriage. He was a craftsman of great talent specialising in carpentry, producing agricultural requirement like carts, harrows, etc. and also involved in the building trade far and wide. In 1945 he purchased the property of Mrs. John O’Brien at Emy. She was Sean O’Brien’s mother and she owned a shop in the village at the time. For Johnny, Minnie and family this became the family home and is now occupied by Pat and his family. Benny was christened Thomas Bernard in memory of his two grandfathers. He had six sisters and three brothers – Cissie (Emy); Roisin (London); Moira (Cody, Ardagh); Susan (Gorman, Dublin); Nancy (McCluskey, Emyvale); Bridie (Sherlock, Monaghan. RIP); Sean (Dublin); Eamonn (Dublin) and Pat (Emy). School. His early National School days were in Knockconan NS, Ballyoisin. Master P J Smith was Principal with Miss. Brigid Flood as assistant. She was a niece of the late Bishop McKenna. With great words of praise Benny extols the excellence of their teaching and the Christian values they imbued in their pupils. The school was, as it still is today, a two classroom building though mobile classrooms have been added more recently. They were good days then and one illustrious school colleague was Paddy Lavery, the photographer of note. As a young boy, Benny became an Altar Server and served Mass for Fr. PJ Shreenan, Fr. Michael McElroy, and Fr. Roger J Crudden PP among others. Work. When the family moved to Emy, he changed schools and became a pupil of Killyrean NS under Master Hugh Woods and Lily Coyle. His secondary education was received at Monaghan Vocational School and in St. Macartan’s College, after which he worked with his father. In 1949 he began work with Monaghan County Council Building Unit and in 1957 was transferred to the Motor Taxation Office followed by some years in the Engineer’s Office in Emyvale. In 1965 he became a Public Health inspector in the Public Health Department and was responsible for the North Monaghan and Clones areas. From 1968 until his retirement in 1992 he was assigned to the Local Improvement Schemes and was an assessor for this scheme, covering the entire county. In all he gave 42 years of service to the county through his work with the Council. Throughout his life he has had a keen interest in timber and woodcraft and often put his talents to great use. However since his retirement he has had more time to spend at his interests and now produces beautiful pieces of occasional furniture. Marriage. Veronica McGread, Anna and Briege Bogan from Omagh were attending a Children of Mary meeting in Monaghan and afterwards they decided to go to a dance in Swan Park, Monaghan. There Benny met Veronica and the relationship flourished and in April 1963 they were married in the Sacred Heart Church in Omagh, Nuptial Mass was celebrated by Fr. Raymond McCluskey CC RIP assisted by Fr. Peter Kavanagh, PP Donagh RIP and cousin of the groom. There too was Fr. Barney McCarney CC Donagh, who passed to his eternal reward recently RIP. Bestman was Eamonn, the groom’s brother and bridesmaid was Sheila McGread, who became Mrs. Gillen. The couple set up home on the shore of picturesque Emy Lake. Son, Conleth, now in London was born on March 27th 1964 – the same birthdate as his mother - and in August 1965 daughter Grainne Mary was born. It was a cold snowy winter that year and, because of illness, Grainne was confined to indoors and sadly died in March 1966 aged just 7 months. Legion of Mary. Throughout his life Benny has been involved in many lay organisations, which were set up to benefit the community and Donagh Parish can lay the credit for these to the Legion of Mary. A men’s Presidium of the Legion was founded in March 1954, the Ladies had already a strong branch of the Legion. They met weekly in what became known as the Legion Room, which was beside the Old Parochial Hall, now an Oratory. This small room saw many and varied activities. It was a Dressing Room for the stage; a public Library; a Meeting Room for other organisations; a clinic for politicians; the AA and AL Anon. Centre; Football Meetings; Credit Union Office; and more besides. Some of the men involved in the Legion at the outset were Tom Murray, Francie Duffy RIP, Mick McKenna, Packie McKenna, Willie Lavery RIP; Pat McKenna, Derrygasson RIP; Hugh McKearney RIP; Jim McQuaid, Raymond McGreevy, Seamus McCluskey and Benny. As a result of the Legion many offshoots occurred like the founding of the Boy Scouts, The Credit Union, the Men’s Confraternity, The FCA Unit, as well as weekend retreats and special celebrations. One of the leading personalities and the driving force behind these was Rev. Fr. P.E. Larkin, then curate in Donagh. Scouting. In 1955 Benny, assisted by Seamus and Gerard Magill, Monaghan, began training a troop of Boy Scouts in Donagh and the first Investiture ceremony was held in 1956. Some of those who made the promise on that occasion were – Willie Lavery, Sean McKenna, Desmond and Seamus McConnon, Seamus McAree, Jimmy Skinnader, Pat McKenna, Seamus Curley, Charlie McAleavey, Michael Lawlor, Michael Gilmore, Sean Forde, Malachy Treacy, Jim McGonnell, Michael Gerard McKenna. The first Annual Play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”, was produced in Monaghan but in 1957 “Dr. at Work” was produced in Emyvale and staged in the Parochial which, because of its size, its wooden ceiling, and layout generally, had great acoustic qualities and a great tradition of drama productions. Fr. B. McCarney, the new curate, helped with the first performance. The Annual Gang Show was staged every year, hail, rain or snow until 1991, without a break. Not only did it raise funds for the Unit but it gave many young men and boys an opportunity to display their talents and gain confidence by appearing publicly at a time when no other such opportunity existed. In Benny’s memory the 1973 production of “The Monkey’s Paw” stands out for its characters and its success. Camping. But the annual show was only part of the Scout Unit’s yearly activity. They held an annual camp. The first was in Strandhill, Co. Sligo but others were held in a host of different locations, including every county in Ireland; Scotland in 1964; Kent in 1978, (which involved a Hovercraft ride to Calais, France); and Wales. Many stories abound regarding antics on the various camps and those involved have hosts of memories to bring a smile to their faces and in the telling of these stories the name of the Unit Leader, Benny McKenna, is sure to get a mention and all will agree on the unselfish, caring and devoted nature of their Scout Leader. Big Swims. Benny Also got St. Patrick’s Boy scout Unit involved in other aspects of parish and community life. They had a hand in many conservation type projects and have assisted in the Tidy Towns campaigns in Glaslough and Emyvale. They have been responsible for planting trees and shrubs in the villages and spent hours on ‘Clean-up Details’. They have promoted stamp collecting for the Missions and organised many charity fundraising events like Walks and Drives. Their first sponsored walk was from Bragan Cross to Emyvale. Perhaps one of their best known events has been the Christmas day Swim at Emy Lake, which has raised thousands of pounds each year and this was divided among various charities. The Unit usually retained about 20% while the remaining 80% was shared by two current worthy causes, sometimes health or mission work or other such needs. At its height almost 90 swimmers braved the cool waters of Emy on Christmas Day at 12.30pm and they ranged in age from six or seven year olds to seventy and each participant was awarded a plaque or trophy as a memento but there was always a prize for those who raised the most sponsorship. Indeed it is very entertaining to look back at some of the video productions of those ‘swims’. These were produced by Murphy Video Service. Colour Party. Any time a dignitary visited the area Benny ensured a Guard of Honour was present to greet them. On Confirmation Days or other times the Bishop was greeted by a Scout Guard of Honour on arrival at Corracrin or Donagh. And a Colour Party was always available for Parades and celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day. The Unit also became involved in the Sunday liturgy and this in turn led to family participation each Sunday. Fr. John. In the 1960’s John Skinnader was a member of the Scout Unit and after his ordination to the priesthood in 1981 he renewed his association with Benny and the Scouts. and he has kept in constant touch since then. He communicates his travels, his work and indeed the dangerous situations he finds himself in at times, to Benny, who in turn passes the information on to Fr. John’s many friends in the area. Benny describes Fr. John as a very capable, lovable and popular person, a description which meets with universal approval. Leisure Centre. During the years of planning, building and launching the Emyvale Leisure Centre, Benny was to the fore as a committee member, always hatching up new ideas and assisting in every way to bring the project to reality and since then has taken an active interest in the year to year running of the Centre. Through his involvement with the Scout movement he was very aware of the need for organised activity for the youth and always saw young people as being very important, with much to contribute to any community. Contribution. It would be impossible to quantify Benny’s own contribution to his fellowman, because, together with those already mentioned, he was a founder member of Emyvale District Credit Union and for over twenty five years was a director, he is a member of Clogher Diocesan and Donagh Mission Awareness committees through which he has been instrumental in sending vast amounts of aid to missionaries in Kitui and elsewhere, he is a member of An Taisce which is concerned with environmental issues, he is a Friend of Monaghan County Museum and a member of Clogher Historical Society which is little wonder considering his knowledge and memory of history especially that of the locality, he is a member of the Clogher Laity Group which promotes Laity involvement in parish life throughout the diocese, he is a keen promoter of and a regular contributor to ‘The Irish Catholic’ and advocates a copy for every household. For a person like Benny, God should have given 48 hours to each day, but then, even that may not have been sufficient. In 1990 Benny retired as Commissioner of the Brian Boru Scout Region and as Unit Leader, and, when asked he says he derived greatest satisfaction from his involvement with the Scout Movement, especially at National level where over 70,000 boy scouts and Girl Guides are active. He had many highlights during his time with them and one of these was during the Presentation of the All-Ireland Tidy Towns Awards in Glaslough when it was the Overall winner in the country. He could spend his days looking back on all these and his other achievements but knowing him, he is too humble for that and has still lots to achieve. We wish him good health to carry on his good work. Produced by Peadar McMahon in 1997 and published in the Dungannon Observer. NB.This article is Copyright
All Content Copyright emyvale.net
Face to Face with Benny McKenna For over 30 years one of the big events in the life of Donagh Parish was the annual Boy Scouts Gang Show, which was normally held in the month of January. It never failed to draw the crowds and always played to a packed hall. The one man responsible for it all was Benny McKenna, Leader of St Patrick’s Troop of Boys Scouts, Donagh, Co. Monaghan. Family Background. Benny was born in Aghaliskeevan, Truagh, the son of Johnny McKenna and Minnie, nee Murray from Corraclare. Johnny was originally from Annagha, but moved to Aghaliskeevan after his marriage. He was a craftsman of great talent specialising in carpentry, producing agricultural requirement like carts, harrows, etc. and also involved in the building trade far and wide. In 1945 he purchased the property of Mrs. John O’Brien at Emy. She was Sean O’Brien’s mother and she owned a shop in the village at the time. For Johnny, Minnie and family this became the family home and is now occupied by Pat and his family. Benny was christened Thomas Bernard in memory of his two grandfathers. He had six sisters and three brothers – Cissie (Emy); Roisin (London); Moira (Cody, Ardagh); Susan (Gorman, Dublin); Nancy (McCluskey, Emyvale); Bridie (Sherlock, Monaghan. RIP); Sean (Dublin); Eamonn (Dublin) and Pat (Emy). School. His early National School days were in Knockconan NS, Ballyoisin. Master P J Smith was Principal with Miss. Brigid Flood as assistant. She was a niece of the late Bishop McKenna. With great words of praise Benny extols the excellence of their teaching and the Christian values they imbued in their pupils. The school was, as it still is today, a two classroom building though mobile classrooms have been added more recently. They were good days then and one illustrious school colleague was Paddy Lavery, the photographer of note. As a young boy, Benny became an Altar Server and served Mass for Fr. PJ Shreenan, Fr. Michael McElroy, and Fr. Roger J Crudden PP among others. Work. When the family moved to Emy, he changed schools and became a pupil of Killyrean NS under Master Hugh Woods and Lily Coyle. His secondary education was received at Monaghan Vocational School and in St. Macartan’s College, after which he worked with his father. In 1949 he began work with Monaghan County Council Building Unit and in 1957 was transferred to the Motor Taxation Office followed by some years in the Engineer’s Office in Emyvale. In 1965 he became a Public Health inspector in the Public Health Department and was responsible for the North Monaghan and Clones areas. From 1968 until his retirement in 1992 he was assigned to the Local Improvement Schemes and was an assessor for this scheme, covering the entire county. In all he gave 42 years of service to the county through his work with the Council. Throughout his life he has had a keen interest in timber and woodcraft and often put his talents to great use. However since his retirement he has had more time to spend at his interests and now produces beautiful pieces of occasional furniture. Marriage. Veronica McGread, Anna and Briege Bogan from Omagh were attending a Children of Mary meeting in Monaghan and afterwards they decided to go to a dance in Swan Park, Monaghan. There Benny met Veronica and the relationship flourished and in April 1963 they were married in the Sacred Heart Church in Omagh, Nuptial Mass was celebrated by Fr. Raymond McCluskey CC RIP assisted by Fr. Peter Kavanagh, PP Donagh RIP and cousin of the groom. There too was Fr. Barney McCarney CC Donagh, who passed to his eternal reward recently RIP. Bestman was Eamonn, the groom’s brother and bridesmaid was Sheila McGread, who became Mrs. Gillen. The couple set up home on the shore of picturesque Emy Lake. Son, Conleth, now in London was born on March 27th 1964 – the same birthdate as his mother - and in August 1965 daughter Grainne Mary was born. It was a cold snowy winter that year and, because of illness, Grainne was confined to indoors and sadly died in March 1966 aged just 7 months. Legion of Mary. Throughout his life Benny has been involved in many lay organisations, which were set up to benefit the community and Donagh Parish can lay the credit for these to the Legion of Mary. A men’s Presidium of the Legion was founded in March 1954, the Ladies had already a strong branch of the Legion. They met weekly in what became known as the Legion Room, which was beside the Old Parochial Hall, now an Oratory. This small room saw many and varied activities. It was a Dressing Room for the stage; a public Library; a Meeting Room for other organisations; a clinic for politicians; the AA and AL Anon. Centre; Football Meetings; Credit Union Office; and more besides. Some of the men involved in the Legion at the outset were Tom Murray, Francie Duffy RIP, Mick McKenna, Packie McKenna, Willie Lavery RIP; Pat McKenna, Derrygasson RIP; Hugh McKearney RIP; Jim McQuaid, Raymond McGreevy, Seamus McCluskey and Benny. As a result of the Legion many offshoots occurred like the founding of the Boy Scouts, The Credit Union, the Men’s Confraternity, The FCA Unit, as well as weekend retreats and special celebrations. One of the leading personalities and the driving force behind these was Rev. Fr. P.E. Larkin, then curate in Donagh. Scouting. In 1955 Benny, assisted by Seamus and Gerard Magill, Monaghan, began training a troop of Boy Scouts in Donagh and the first Investiture ceremony was held in 1956. Some of those who made the promise on that occasion were – Willie Lavery, Sean McKenna, Desmond and Seamus McConnon, Seamus McAree, Jimmy Skinnader, Pat McKenna, Seamus Curley, Charlie McAleavey, Michael Lawlor, Michael Gilmore, Sean Forde, Malachy Treacy, Jim McGonnell, Michael Gerard McKenna. The first Annual Play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”, was produced in Monaghan but in 1957 “Dr. at Work” was produced in Emyvale and staged in the Parochial which, because of its size, its wooden ceiling, and layout generally, had great acoustic qualities and a great tradition of drama productions. Fr. B. McCarney, the new curate, helped with the first performance. The Annual Gang Show was staged every year, hail, rain or snow until 1991, without a break. Not only did it raise funds for the Unit but it gave many young men and boys an opportunity to display their talents and gain confidence by appearing publicly at a time when no other such opportunity existed. In Benny’s memory the 1973 production of “The Monkey’s Paw” stands out for its characters and its success. Camping. But the annual show was only part of the Scout Unit’s yearly activity. They held an annual camp. The first was in Strandhill, Co. Sligo but others were held in a host of different locations, including every county in Ireland; Scotland in 1964; Kent in 1978, (which involved a Hovercraft ride to Calais, France); and Wales. Many stories abound regarding antics on the various camps and those involved have hosts of memories to bring a smile to their faces and in the telling of these stories the name of the Unit Leader, Benny McKenna, is sure to get a mention and all will agree on the unselfish, caring and devoted nature of their Scout Leader. Big Swims. Benny Also got St. Patrick’s Boy scout Unit involved in other aspects of parish and community life. They had a hand in many conservation type projects and have assisted in the Tidy Towns campaigns in Glaslough and Emyvale. They have been responsible for planting trees and shrubs in the villages and spent hours on ‘Clean-up Details’. They have promoted stamp collecting for the Missions and organised many charity fundraising events like Walks and Drives. Their first sponsored walk was from Bragan Cross to Emyvale. Perhaps one of their best known events has been the Christmas day Swim at Emy Lake, which has raised thousands of pounds each year and this was divided among various charities. The Unit usually retained about 20% while the remaining 80% was shared by two current worthy causes, sometimes health or mission work or other such needs. At its height almost 90 swimmers braved the cool waters of Emy on Christmas Day at 12.30pm and they ranged in age from six or seven year olds to seventy and each participant was awarded a plaque or trophy as a memento but there was always a prize for those who raised the most sponsorship. Indeed it is very entertaining to look back at some of the video productions of those ‘swims’. These were produced by Murphy Video Service. Colour Party. Any time a dignitary visited the area Benny ensured a Guard of Honour was present to greet them. On Confirmation Days or other times the Bishop was greeted by a Scout Guard of Honour on arrival at Corracrin or Donagh. And a Colour Party was always available for Parades and celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day. The Unit also became involved in the Sunday liturgy and this in turn led to family participation each Sunday. Fr. John. In the 1960’s John Skinnader was a member of the Scout Unit and after his ordination to the priesthood in 1981 he renewed his association with Benny and the Scouts. and he has kept in constant touch since then. He communicates his travels, his work and indeed the dangerous situations he finds himself in at times, to Benny, who in turn passes the information on to Fr. John’s many friends in the area. Benny describes Fr. John as a very capable, lovable and popular person, a description which meets with universal approval. Leisure Centre. During the years of planning, building and launching the Emyvale Leisure Centre, Benny was to the fore as a committee member, always hatching up new ideas and assisting in every way to bring the project to reality and since then has taken an active interest in the year to year running of the Centre. Through his involvement with the Scout movement he was very aware of the need for organised activity for the youth and always saw young people as being very important, with much to contribute to any community. Contribution. It would be impossible to quantify Benny’s own contribution to his fellowman, because, together with those already mentioned, he was a founder member of Emyvale District Credit Union and for over twenty five years was a director, he is a member of Clogher Diocesan and Donagh Mission Awareness committees through which he has been instrumental in sending vast amounts of aid to missionaries in Kitui and elsewhere, he is a member of An Taisce which is concerned with environmental issues, he is a Friend of Monaghan County Museum and a member of Clogher Historical Society which is little wonder considering his knowledge and memory of history especially that of the locality, he is a member of the Clogher Laity Group which promotes Laity involvement in parish life throughout the diocese, he is a keen promoter of and a regular contributor to ‘The Irish Catholic’ and advocates a copy for every household. For a person like Benny, God should have given 48 hours to each day, but then, even that may not have been sufficient. In 1990 Benny retired as Commissioner of the Brian Boru Scout Region and as Unit Leader, and, when asked he says he derived greatest satisfaction from his involvement with the Scout Movement, especially at National level where over 70,000 boy scouts and Girl Guides are active. He had many highlights during his time with them and one of these was during the Presentation of the All-Ireland Tidy Towns Awards in Glaslough when it was the Overall winner in the country. He could spend his days looking back on all these and his other achievements but knowing him, he is too humble for that and has still lots to achieve. We wish him good health to carry on his good work. Produced by Peadar McMahon in 1997 and published in the Dungannon Observer. NB.This article is Copyright