Samuel Ferguson

For other people named Samuel Ferguson, see Samuel Ferguson (disambiguation).
Samuel Ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson
Born 10 March 1810
Belfast, Ireland
Died 9 August 1886(1886-08-09) (aged 76)
Howth, Ireland
Occupation Barrister, Writer, Antiquarian
Nationality Irish
Genre Irish poetry
Notable works Congal, Lays of the Western Gaels
Spouse Mary Guinness


Sir Samuel Ferguson (10 March 1810 – 9 August 1886) was an Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist and public servant. Perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century, because of his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he can be seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Early life

Samuel Ferguson in his youth.

Ferguson was born at 23 High Street, Belfast, Ireland. His father was a spendthrift and his mother was a noted conversationalist and lover of literature who read the works of Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Keats, Shelley and other English-language authors to her six children.

Ferguson lived at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he later said he acquired the love of nature that informed his later work. He was educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution. He then moved to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, getting his BA in 1826 and his MA in 1832.

Because his father had exhausted the family property, Ferguson was forced to support himself through his student years. To do this, he turned to writing and was a regular contributor to Blackwood's Magazine by the age of 22. He was called to the bar in 1838, but continued to write and publish, both in Blackwood's and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.

Later life

Ferguson settled in Dublin, where he practised law. In 1846, he toured European museums, libraries and archaeological sites with strong connections to Irish scholarship.

He married Mary Guinness (1823–1905) in 1848, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness who founded the Guinness Mahon bank. At that time he was defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams. He retired from the bar when he was appointed First Deputy Keeper of Public Records of Ireland.[1]

As well as his poetry, Ferguson contributed a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travelled in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies were important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which was edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.[1]

His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael was published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity. He wrote many of his poems with both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retired 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 received a knighthood in 1878.[1]

Ferguson's major work, the long poem Congal was published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems in 1880. In 1882, he was 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, was open to everyone interested in art, literature or music. He died in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and was buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.[1]



  1. 1 2 3 4 Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 129. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.
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