Burgess, Henry Givens (1859–1937), transport administrator, was born 6 April 1859 at Finnoe House, near Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary, son of George Burgess, land steward of the Waller family; his mother's maiden name was Givens. His father farmed in an area so ‘troubled’ by sectarianism and faction fighting that, years on, their eldest son was to recall how his parents, though protestant, had preserved a strict neutrality by rendering first aid to all the combatants irrespective of their religious beliefs. It was an attitude that characterised much of his own dealings with his fellow countrymen.
Educated to the age of about 14, he began his railway career as a junior clerk with the Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway but transferred to the staff of the London & North Western Railway's expanding Irish traffic section in 1878. It was an astute move, for his abilities were soon recognised and he proceeded to become that company's chief canvasser for the midlands and the north of Ireland. His employers were so impressed by his efforts that they made him their chief representative in Scotland at a time when competition for the Anglo–Scottish traffic was particularly fierce. In 1898 he was appointed Irish traffic manager as well as general manager of his company's only Irish line, the Dundalk, Newry & Greenore Railway, and soon after he became an active and very influential member of the Dublin Port and Docks Board, on which he was to remain for eighteen years.
The first world war gave him an opportunity to display qualities of character and intellect which had never been given adequate scope. He was appointed director of cross-channel shipping, Irish coal controller, director of Irish transport at the newly formed Ministry of Transport in 1919, and the following year general manager of the London & North Western Railway, perhaps the most important railway post of its kind. A tall man at 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 metres), known as ‘H. G.’ to his intimates, he commuted regularly between London and his home in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Eglinton House, and was often to be found in Bewley's, Grafton St., bowler pushed to the back of his head, cigarette dangling from his lips, listening to the latest business gossip. In March 1921, as part of the search for a peace settlement, he facilitated contact between the Irish labour leaders William O'Brien (qv) (d. 1968), Thomas Johnson (qv), and Thomas Foran (qv) and the home secretary (and former chief secretary for Ireland), Edward Shortt (qv), making his Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) house available for meetings. He later introduced Foran and Cathal O'Shannon (qv) to The Times's editor, and transmitted word that the government favoured a truce to O'Brien, to pass to Sinn Féin. Active behind the scenes in the treaty negotiations as an adviser on Irish economics, Burgess accepted a seat on the Irish privy council and was nominated to the Irish senate by W. T. Cosgrave (qv), but appears to have attended debates on only two occasions. He might have had a baronetcy a dozen times, but as both his sons had been killed in the war he refused to bear a title that would not be carried on. More important to him was the supervision of the formation of the London Midland & Scottish (LMS) railway, of which he was appointed general manager in 1924. It was during his time as general manager that he became on intimate terms with the British royal family; his Tipperary accent, which he never lost, being a particular source of delight to King George V.
In 1924 a reluctant Irish government passed legislation to enable Burgess to become a director of the newly formed Great Southern Railways (GSR) on the strength of LMS investments in the Irish railway system. Three years later he retired from the LMS, though he represented the company on the GSR board until 1933 and remained with the GSR as chairman of that company's road subsidiaries until 1934, having rendered, as his fellow directors recorded, ‘services of incalculable worth’. As a tribute to his many accomplishments an LLD was conferred on him by TCD in March 1929, and he spent much of his retirement at Riversdale on the Slaney near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, engaged in his favourite pastime, salmon fishing. He died 23 April 1937 of a heart attack while fishing on the river.
In 1888 he met and married Agnes, daughter of Robert Balderston of Paisley, Scotland; they had two sons and two daughters. Described as a man of ‘immense energy’ and ‘uncommon mental ability’ (Ir. Times, 24 April 1937), Burgess was undoubtedly Ireland's most able railway and shipping administrator.