William Allingham, Irish poet, diarist, and editor, is born on March 19, 1824 in the little port of Ballyshannon, County Donegal. He writes several volumes of lyric verse, and his poem “The Faeries” is much anthologised. However, he is better known for his posthumously published Diary, in which he records his lively encounters with Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and other writers and artists. His wife, Helen Allingham, is a well-known water-colorist and illustrator.
Allingham is the son of the manager of a local bank who is of English descent. His younger brothers and sisters are Catherine (b. 1826), John (b. 1827), Jane (b. 1829), Edward (b. 1831; who lived only a few months), and a still-born brother (b. 1833). During his childhood his parents move twice within the town, where the boy enjoys the country sights and gardens, learns to paint, and listens to his mother’s piano-playing. His mother dies when he is nine years old.
Allingham obtains a post in the custom house of his native town, and holds several similar posts in Ireland and England until 1870. It is during this period that Poems (1850), which includes his well-known poem “The Fairies,” and Day and Night Songs (1855) are published. Lawrence Bloomfield in Ireland, his most ambitious though not his most successful work, a narrative poem illustrative of Irish social questions, appears in 1864. He also edits The Ballad Book for the Golden Treasury series in 1864, and Fifty Modern Poems in 1865.
In April 1870, Allingham retires from the customs service, moves to London and becomes sub-editor of Fraser’s Magazine, eventually becoming editor in succession to James Anthony Froude in June 1874, a post he holds until 1879. On August 22, 1874 he marries the illustrator, Helen Paterson, who is twenty-four years younger than him. His wife gives up her work as an illustrator and becomes well known under her married name as a water-colour painter. At first the couple lives in London, at 12 Trafalgar Square, Chelsea, near Allingham’s friend, Thomas Carlyle, and it is there that they have their first two children – Gerald Carlyle (b. November 1875) and Eva Margaret (b. February 1877). Allingham’s Songs, Poems and Ballads is published in 1877. In 1881, after the death of Carlyle, the Allinghams move to Sandhills near Witley in Surrey, where their third child, Henry William, is born in 1882. At this period Allingham publishes Evil May Day (1883), Blackberries (1884), and Irish Songs and Poems (1887).
In 1888, because of William’s declining health, they move back to the capital, to the heights of Hampstead village. However, on November 18, 1889, William Allingham dies at Hampstead. According to his wishes he is cremated. His ashes are interred at St. Anne’s church in his native Ballyshannon.
Posthumously Allingham’s Varieties in Prose is published in 1893. William Allingham A Diary, edited by Mrs. Helen Allingham and D. Radford, is published in 1907. It contains Allingham’s reminiscences of Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and other writers and artists.