seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish Poet & Barrister

sir-samuel-fergusonSir 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.

Ferguson dies on August 9, 1886 in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and is buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.

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Novelist Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu Dies In Dublin

joseph-sheridan-le-fanuJoseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, journalist, novelist, and short story writer, often called the father of the modern ghost story, dies in Dublin on February 7, 1873. He is the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century and is central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era. His best known works include Uncle Silas (1864), a suspense story, and The House by the Churchyard (1863), a murder mystery. His vampire story Carmilla, which influences Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has been filmed several times.

Le Fanu is born at 45 Lower Dominick Street in Dublin to Thomas Philip Le Fanu and Emma Lucretia Dobbin, a literary family of Huguenot, Irish, and English descent. Within a year of his birth the family moves to the Royal Hibernian Military School in Phoenix Park where his father, a Church of Ireland clergyman, is appointed to the chaplaincy of the establishment.

In 1826, the family moves to Abington, County Limerick, where Le Fanu’s father takes up his second rectorship. Le Fanu uses his father’s library to educate himself and by the age of fifteen he was writing poetry.

The disorders of the Tithe War (1831–1836) affect the region in 1832 and the following year the family temporarily moves back to Dublin, where Le Fanu works on a Government commission. Although Thomas Le Fanu tries to live as though he is well-off, the family is in constant financial difficulty. At his death, Thomas has almost nothing to leave to his sons and the family has to sell his library to pay off some of his debts.

Le Fanu studies law at Trinity College, Dublin, where he is elected Auditor of the College Historical Society. He is called to the bar in 1839, but never practices and soon abandons law for journalism. In 1838 he begins contributing stories to the Dublin University Magazine, including his first ghost story, The Ghost and the Bone-Setter (1838). He becomes owner of several newspapers from 1840, including the Dublin Evening Mail and the Warder.

In 1847, Le Fanu supports John Mitchel and Thomas Francis Meagher in their campaign against the indifference of the government to the Irish Famine. Others involved in the campaign include Samuel Ferguson and Isaac Butt. Butt writes a forty-page analysis of the national disaster for the Dublin University Magazine in 1847. Le Fanu’s support costs him the nomination as Tory Member of Parliament (MP) for County Carlow in 1852.

In 1856 the family moves from Warrington Place to the house of his wife Susanna’s parents at 18 Merrion Square. His personal life becomes difficult at this time, as his wife suffers from increasing neurotic symptoms. She suffers from anxiety after the deaths of several close relatives, including her father two years previous. In April 1858, Susanna suffers a “hysterical attack” and dies the following day. She is buried in the Bennett family vault in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her father and brothers. He does not write any fiction from this point until the death of his mother in 1861.

He becomes the editor and proprietor of the Dublin University Magazine in 1861 and begins to take advantage of double publication, first serializing in the Dublin University Magazine, then revising for the English market. He publishes both The House by the Churchyard and Wylder’s Hand in this manner. After lukewarm reviews of The House by the Churchyard, which is set in the Phoenix Park area of Dublin, Le Fanu signs a contract with Richard Bentley, his London publisher, which specifies that future novels be stories “of an English subject and of modern times,” a step Bentley thinks necessary for Le Fanu to satisfy the English audience. Le Fanu succeeds in this aim in 1864, with the publication of Uncle Silas, which is set in Derbyshire. In his very last short stories, however, Le Fanu returns to Irish folklore as an inspiration and encourages his friend Patrick Kennedy to contribute folklore to the Dublin University Magazine.

Le Fanu dies in his native Dublin on February 7, 1873, at the age of 58. Today there is a road and a park in Ballyfermot, near his childhood home in south-west Dublin, named after him.