Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, is born at 23 High Street in Belfast on March 10, 1810. Ferguson is perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century. Due to his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he is seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.
Ferguson lives at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he acquires the love of nature that informs his later work. He is educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution, and then moves to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1826 and his masters degree in 1832.
Because his father has exhausted the family property, Ferguson is forced to support himself through his student years. He turns to writing and is a regular contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine by the age of 22. He is called to the bar in 1838, but continues to write and publish, both in Blackwood’s and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.
Ferguson settles in Dublin, where he practises law. In 1848, he marries Mary Guinness, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank. At the time he is defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams.
In addition to his poetry, Ferguson contributes a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travels in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies are important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which is edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.
His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael is published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity College. He writes many of his poems in both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retires from the bar to take up the newly created post of Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. As reward for his services, he receives a knighthood in 1878.
Ferguson’s major work, the long poem Congal is published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems, in 1880. In 1882, he is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of science, literature, and antiquarian studies. His house in North Great George’s St., Dublin, is open to everyone interested in art, literature or music.