MICHAEL KINNEY was an early settler of Fitchburg, who with his brother Andrew founded in the 1840s the Irish Lane settlement area near the center of the township. The brothers’ surname was spelled “Kenny” until about 1855, when the family changed the spelling to “Kinney.” Michael, who was named after his father, was born in 1798 in County Mayo, Ireland. Michael married Mary Lamb on February 28, 1827, in Ireland, and they had two children. Mary died young, and Michael married Mary Golden on February 13, 1831. He and his family, with his brother Andrew, left the family home in Newcastle, County Mayo, in May 1831 and sailed for the New World. Soon after, Michael and his family settled on a farm in Trois Rivieres, Canada, and operated it through early 1845. During that time, his brother Andrew started a canal contracting business which expanded down the East Coast all the way to South Carolina. Due to his work, Andrew was frequently gone from the Trois Rivieres farm. Also during that period, Michael’s children from his first marriage died, possibly due to a cholera epidemic in the province of Quebec in 1832. Michael and Mary had children of their own: Catherine born August 1, 1833, and Margaret born October 8, 1834. Eventually, Michael and Andrew’s parents left Newcastle, Ireland, and joined the young family in Trois Rivieres, where the parents died before 1845.
Michael’s brother Andrew moved to the newly opening Wisconsin Territory in 1844 and settled in the wilderness that was to become Fitchburg. Michael and his family left the Trois Rivieres farm the following year in May of 1845, and entered the United States from Queenston, just north of Niagara Falls. They traveled to Wisconsin and joined Andrew in 1845 at the homestead near the center of the township that became Fitchburg. Michael rode horseback from the homestead to the Milwaukee federal land office and purchased the land. The brothers set up farms side by side on the wagon path that would become Irish Lane. Andrew’s log cabin was to the southeast of the intersection of Caine Road and Irish Lane, and Michael’s was to the southwest of the intersection. They raised wheat as a cash crop on their farms. The brothers’ holdings expanded to 200 acres by 1849.
The Kinneys in 1844 were the first pioneers to arrive in central Fitchburg. Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Potato Famine in Ireland that occurred between 1845 to 1855 soon arrived and settled around the Kinneys in the Irish Lane area. Andrew and Michael Kinney were older than most of the Famine-era immigrants, and therefore shared their knowledge and skills with their new neighbors. Michael had a talent for bookkeeping, and helped immigrants with their farm accounts. In 1851, Michael Kinney was elected town treasurer.
Michael and Mary’s oldest daughter, Catherine, grew up on the Irish Lane farm, and in 1850 married Patrick Lynch. Patrick originally was from County Fermanagh, Ireland, arrived on Irish Lane in 1847, and founded the pioneer Lynch family of Dane County. Catherine moved to Patrick Lynch’s farm located on the south side of Irish Lane a little over a quarter of a mile east of the intersection of Syene Road. They had four children together before Patrick Lynch died in 1864. Catherine married William Halpin in 1870 and they had a daughter. Later, Catherine and William moved to Ellendale, North Dakota, where they operated a large wheat farm.
Margaret, the younger daughter of Michael and Mary Kinney married James Sheridan in November 24, 1850. This marriage was the second wedding to be recorded at the small wood-frame St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Madison. This church was the forerunner of the large St. Raphael’s Cathedral building that was constructed soon thereafter and burned in 2005. James Sheridan fought in the Civil War in the 2nd Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry from 1863 to 1865. The Sheridans had seven children.
Michael Kinney’s wife Mary died in the late 1840s on the Irish Lane farm, and Michael died there on August 25, 1854. Later, Michael’s farm was purchased by Andrew’s son Michael, and Kinney family descendants live on the property today in the 21st Century.
By Thomas P. Kinney, author of:
Irish Settlers of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, 1840-1860, Fitchburg, Wisconsin, Fitchburg Historical Society, 1993.
The Kinney Family of Irish Lane – From the Barony of Moycarn to the Homestead in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, Fitchburg, Wisconsin, Irish Lane Publishing Company, 1994.