John Henry (1905-1986)

Folktales From County Mayo

John Henry was born in Ballydrum, near Swinford in East Mayo in 1905.
He emigrated to America in 1924 and spent some years working in Chicago before returning  home in 1931 to take over the running of the family farm.
Some years later, he began working for Mayo County Council as a supervisor on road and bridge construction.
His work took him to every part of the county and wherever he went, he brought a supply of pencils and notebooks with him. He was an avid folklore and local history collector and he used those writing materials to make notes as he spoke with the older members of the community wherever he went. Like most people of his time, he had an extremely retentive memory and he used those jottings to re-create their accounts  at a later date.

“Later” usually meant when when he returned home at weekends but it could also be years afterwards. Over the years he complied a large collection of narratives with the intention of making them available to future generations.
He knew that the face of Irish society was changing and that the great oral tradition where the cultural lore and history of each generation was passed on within a community to another  was coming to an end. He determined to collect as much as possible of the traditions of his people while there were still some living who could pass this information on to him.

He contributed to the work of the Irish Folklore Commission, set up in the late 1930's, to collect as much of the folklore and traditions of Ireland.

He was a prolific author, writing articles for local and national newspapers as well local magazines and periodicals. “Tales from The West of Ireland,” a collection of his stories, was published by the Mercier Press in 1980 and re-printed in 1999.  
Enda Kenny, who was later to become Taoiseach of this country was guest of honour at the event and spoke in glowing terms of the work done by John Henry in helping to preserve our national heritage.

He died in 1986 and was buried in his local cemetery, beside his wife, Margaret, who had supported him and his work for the preservation of the local heritage.

May they both rest in peace.


Photo taken of the author along with is son, Michael and his new daughter-in-law, Geraldine on the couple’s wedding day.

Book Launch Ceremony John Henry's final photo.

Launch of “Tales from The West of Ireland” in 1999. The present Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny looks on as Mayo County Manager, Des Mahon and Johnny Mee, chairman of Castlebar Urban Council sign copies of the book.

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