Mark Henry was born in Charlestown, County Mayo, in the month of July 1854. He was the second son of Michael Henry and Mary Mulligan. His older brother John M was born in 1852. Mark's father Michael came from Swinford, where his family were involved in the commercial life of that town. Michael's family operated the Tolls and Customs of the Fairs and Markets at Circular road. They also ran a Public House (Bar) and leased other properties from the Brabazon family, who owned Swinford at that time.
A Mark Henry was a registered voter in the election of 1833.
Mark's mother Mary, was the only daughter of John Mulligan and Elizabeth Haran. John Mulligan was responsible for providing the site and new house in 1846 for the newly married couple. Elizabeth died first and John in 1876.
Michael and Mary operated, what we would call nowadays, a Bed and Breakfast establishment, for the passing traffic of the early 1850's. This cosy lifestyle was not to last very long, as Michael died in 1862, leaving the young widow with two sons to rear and a business to run. Mary did just that and her two sons John and Mark, progressed in their lives. John being the eldest, helped his mother run the business and his brother Mark took himself off to America in the early 1870’s to work in a Bar in 10th and Chestnut in Philadelphia. He worked for the Griffin family, who were relatives at that time.
Mark married Catherine Carney in America and then the young couple returned home to Charlestown at the request of his mother. His brother John was enjoying the good life too much and Mark was needed badly to help run the business. After they returned Catherine died in 1883.
Mark then got involved in local politics and was elected to the Swinford Board of Guardians, the local Authority of the period. He was a member of the Charlestown Dispensary District and served on that body until 1894. His brother John died in 1892 and his mother Mary in 1897.
He got married for a second time in 1894 to Margaret Filan from Swinford. They had four children: Mary (May) 1895-1984, Michael 1897-1946, John (Jack) 1898-1990 and James Anthony (Tony) 1900-1982. Margaret Henry died in 1938. As a small boy he trod the streets of Charlestown when it was a tiny village.
He lived to see it grow into a prosperous and forward looking business town, with all the amenities including it’s very own Electric Light Company, which was incorporated into the ESB in 1927.
Much of the town’s early development might be traced to Mark Henry’s unflagging energy. No man of his period had devoted more time and energy, or a greater organising capacity, combined with a widespread popularity, to the service of the people that he passed, to rest in his native town. Following the passing of the Local Government Act of 1898, he became prominently identified with public administration, though earlier in 1892, he was elected a member of the Swinford Poor Law Guardians for the Sonnagh division.
As far back as 1877, he joined the Fenians into which he was initiated by the late Jack Carney of Copplecurragh. He attended meetings of that advanced body, forerunners of the organisation which was later to set the seal of freedom on his native land.
While in Philadelphia, he joined Clann na nGaedheal in 1881, the year that Michael Davitt went to America to seek support for the newly established Land League. He strongly supported Davitt’s effort and became his intimate friend.
When Mark Henry returned to Charlestown he continued to be an active worker in the movement for a free Ireland. The Land League then yielded to the United Irish League. He was appointed the first Chairman of the local branch and later of the East Mayo Executive. The tenant farmers had in him a staunch and restless friend and champion. In 1899, one year after the passing of the Local Government Act, he was elected a member of the first Mayo County Council. He remained there for the next twenty years.
During this time he was Chairman of the Swinford Rural District Council. He also had to preside at the meeting of the Council, which in his own words were: "I have to perform one of the saddest duties, which had ever fallen on me to discharge, namely to propose a resolution of regret at the death of that great Irishman, Michael Davitt, who was laid to rest last Saturday in the ancient burial ground of Straide". That meeting was held in Swinford in June 1906.
For a considerable time during this period he was also Chairman of the County Board of the AOH, and he was one of the pillars of the local GAA club. In his youth he enjoyed the game of Handball and often played in the old Bushfield ball alley. He lived to see one of his sons, the late Jack Henry, win national handball titles, win a Sigerson cup medal with University College Dublin in 1923 and play for the Mayo team in the infamous All-Ireland final of 1925.
In 1927, he was elected to Dail Eireann, our National Parliament, as a Cumann na nGaedheal member and remained in office for five years, when he retired owing to advancing years. He was 'Father of the House' during this time. It is worth noting that around this time in 1911, the Trustees of the then new Town Hall, who were: Patrick Doherty, James Parsons, James Morrisroe and Rev Michael Keveney, signed the agreement of the lease in the presence of Mark C Henry JP. The official seal of the Congested Districts Board was affixed in the presence JR O’Brien, Secretary of the Board, who was also in attendance.
The Editor of the Western People at the time of his death in 1952, said of him: 'During his long life he made no enemies, but was held in affection and esteem by all, even in the stormiest period of Irish history when so many friendships were strained or broken and when feelings grew so embittered. He passed away leaving pleasant memories of a great Irishman, of unswerving loyalty to the ideals of freedom and to the service of his fellow-men. May the sod of the soil he did so much to enfranchise rest lightly on the grave of a true friend, a devoted parent and a sterling Nationalist.'
© Cathal Henry 2007