Augustine Henry was born to an Irish family, on the 2nd July 1857 in Dundee, Scotland. His mother was Mary McNamee from Ballinascreen, near Draperstown, in Ireland. His father, Bernard, was originally from near Portglenone.
A Young Tyanee Botanist
Soon after Augustine was born, they moved back to Ireland and lived in Cookstown, where Bernard was a grocer and flax merchant. But the Henry family spent a lot of their time at Tyanee, near Portglenone, where the family can be traced back to at least 1650.
Augustine, or Austin as he was known to family and friends, attended Cookstown Academy. Although he was the eldest of the family, and would go on to become a distinguished botanist and dendrologist, he initally only studied medicine. He obtained a degree (a First, and a gold medal) in Natural Sciences and Philosophy from Queen’s College in Galway; and the subsequent year got an Master of Arts from Queen’s College in Belfast. Augustine then had a year’s experience working in a London hospital, before getting his medical degree from Queens in 1879. Botany, at that time, was a part of the medical curriculum.
Augustine Henry travelled across Asia, most notably focussing on China. His interest in plants grew. He documented and sent thousands of rare plants home. The botanist sent specimens to the Botanic Garden at Kew and also to Glasnevin. He invented a system for classifying plants. He spent almost 20 years working across Asia.
Augustine Henry, the Portglenone Years
His family lived on the Old Tyanee Road, which is some two miles from the village of Portglenone. The current owners of where his old family dwelling place once stood, are Mervyn and Ruth Kelso.
In those childhood days, when in Tyanee, he would attend Mass at the nearby Greenlough Chapel. On one later occasion in Tyanee, during the early 1900s, he stayed with his brother Tom Pat Henry. And after celebrating Mass at Greenlough Chapel, he wrote: “The churchyard on the hill with the green graves, the quiet, peace-loving people, so refined, the Ancient ceremonial – all called to one’s imagination and one wished no change in the scene”.
The Father of Irish Forestry
The botanist finally departed China in 1900 and went on to study in Nancy, France, at the National School of Forestry. He subsequently moved to Cambridge, in England, and became a Reader in Forestry. This employment lasted from 1907 to 1913. During these years at Cambridge, he wrote (along with H J Elwes) the wonderful (and definitive work) 7-volume: Trees of Great Britain and Ireland.
In 1913, Augustine returned to Ireland, and was appointed the first ever Professor of Forestry at the Royal College of Science (which is now University College Dublin). He finally retired in 1926. Dr Augustine Henry, was 72 years old, when he passed away on the 23rd March 1930. There is a memorial to him in Portglenone Forest.
He is buried in Dean’s Grange in Dublin. There is a delightful inscription on the tombstone of this wonderful man. It reads: