It was 1967 when Eamonn Henry did his Leaving Cert and left his native Swinford for St Patrick’s Training College in Dublin. It would be the last year he would live in Mayo, going on to teach in Finglas West in Dublin for all of his career.
Though out of the county for almost 50 years, Henry’s love of native soil has never diminished with time. If anything, it has continued to grow, as evidenced by his Mayo history and folklore website, MayoGodHelpUs.com, which he has run for several years.
When he was asked by History Press would he consider writing a book on his county, he jumped at the chance.
The result is ‘The Little Book of Mayo’, a charming and informative collection of all things Mayo. From ten famous Mayo faces to ten famous Mayo places and everything and anything in between, the book is an entertaining look at our county.
It is part of a series with Little Books of counties such as Wexford and Limerick already published.
“One of the guidelines I got was for it to be quirky and humorous, the type of book people might bring on a train journey or read and pass onto someone else.
“I was asked not to come up with a work of scholarship, to keep the book relevant and have the information correct,” Henry told The Mayo News.
It is his first book, though he did edit a collection of writings by his father, John, in 1999 for Mercier Press. John Henry was a well-known folklorist.
Eamonn wrote the book in under seven months, and it was on the shelves sooner than he was expecting. “I went into Eason’s on O’Connell Street one day to buy The Mayo News, and there was the book staring back at me. It was surreal. Everything has gone better than expected,” he said.
There was no easier subject for his first book than his native Mayo. “I have a very strong emotional, cultural and heritage link to Mayo,” he said, adding that he’s a big Mayo football fan. “Mayo winning the All-Ireland is one of my dearest ambitions – keep the faith!”
Eamonn travels home as often as possible and travels around the county when the opportunity arises.
“I can just go west, forget Dublin and be able to move around Mayo and listen to the Mayo accent,” he said.
Chapters in the book including an interesting one examining the history of crime and punishment in Mayo, another on Granuaile, one on Ballintubber Abbey (the one he enjoyed the most) among many more.
Eamonn Henry is, in fact, ‘close friends’ with a certain Bertie Ahern. He was a ‘ward boss’ for two of the wards in Ahern’s Dublin Central. Each ward had a population of about 4,000 people and the ward bosses ‘kept an eye’ on issues on the ground for the former Taoiseach.
So was the Swinford native part of the infamous ‘Drumcondra Mafia’?
“The Drumcondra Mafia is a title that was just put on by the media, no more than Paddy the Plasterer. To me he was always just Paddy Reilly. I wasn’t hugely into anyone’s politics, I was more curious by how it worked.
“I would have people delegated on the ground to keep an eye out for me. It was a very effective way of keeping Bertie in touch with the grassroots. He never got too big for his boots,” said Henry.
He knows Enda Kenny well too. How do the two compare, particularly in light of Ahern’s tarnished legacy?
“I could drink with both Bertie and Enda Kenny and not have anything on my conscience,” he quipped.
“They are like chalk and cheese but you can like both. Both have positives. Enda has a steely side which is essential in politics. We saw it when Richard Bruton and others tried to unseat him and found he was not an amadán from the bog. A lot has been made about his public image but he seems to get on very well with politicians in the EU.
“Bertie Ahern showed how well he could mix too in the Peace Process. Enda Kenny is the more organised of the two, Bertie is genuinely effusive and friendly. Enda is more measured and detached. Right now I’d pick Enda Kenny to be in charge of the boat over Bertie Ahern,” Henry observes.
That could be another book.
‘The Little Book of Mayo’, by Eamonn Henry, is out now in all bookshops.