First Secretary to Academic Council, Queens University of Belfast
Robert Mitchell Henry was born on 11 February 1873 in Belfast, the eldest of the four sons of the Revd Robert Mitchell and Kate Anne Henry.
Henry, brother of the painter Paul Henry (1876-1958), was educated at the Methodist College, Belfast, and read classics at Queen’s College, Belfast where he was awarded a first in 1893. He was appointed to a junior fellowship in 1900, a readership in 1906 and as Professor of Latin in 1907. He was senior classics master at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution from 1899 to 1905. When Queen’s College became Queen’s University in 1908, he occupied the chair of Latin.
Henry was an Irish nationalist, in sympathy with the aims of the Gaelic League, with its emphasis on Irish language and culture. He supported Home Rule for Ireland although in The Evolution of Sinn Féin (1920), he argued that full independence would be impossible in the foreseeable future. He was the first President of the Society for Irish Historical Studies when it was founded at Queen’s in 1936 and in 1938, with the Irish Historical Society in Dublin, he helped to found the journal Irish Historical Studies.
At Queen’s University Henry was elected secretary of the academic council at its first meeting in November 1909, and remained in this post until his resignation in 1936, making it one of the most important offices in the university. He was appointed to the first professorial vacancy on the senate in January 1911, and played an important part in determining the policy of the new university. In 1933, due to his political views he was passed over for the appointment of Vice Chancellor. In 1929 he donated over 1000 volumes of Irish history and civilization from his own to the library of Queen’s University forming the nucleus of the R. M. Henry collection. He retired in 1938 and was appointed to an honorary chair of classical literature at Trinity College, Dublin. From 1939 to 1947 held the chair of humanity at the University of St Andrews. From 1947 until his death at his home in Dublin on 21 December 1950 he lectured and taught in Dublin.
Henry was president of the Classical Association of Ireland in 1920, and of the Classical Association of Northern Ireland from 1929 to 1938. He was president of the Classical Association of England and Wales in 1936. He believed in the importance of adult education, and from 1919 to 1938 served as chairman of the Belfast (later Northern Ireland) branch of the Workers’ Educational Association. As a result of his efforts the senate of Queen’s University created the new post of lecturer and director of extramural studies in 1928.
Location of plaque: Lanyon Building, Queen’s University of Belfast
Date unveiled:18 June 2009
Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE