Samuel Ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson (10 March 18109 August 1886) was an Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist and public servant. Perhaps the most important Ulster-Scot 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 Celtic Twilight.

Early life

Ferguson was born at 23 High Street, Belfast into a family that had moved to Ulster from Scotland during the 17th century. 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 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 the newly formed Dublin University Magazine.

Later life

Ferguson settled in Dublin, where he practiced law. In 1846, he toured European museums, libraries and archaeological sites with strong connections to Irish scholarship. He married Mary Guinness in 1848 while he was defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams. His wife was a great-niece of Arthur Guinness. In 1875 he lived at 20 North Great George Street, Dublin.

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 published posthumously in 1887.

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.

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. He died in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and was buried in Donegore, County Antrim.


  • Lament for the Death of Thomas Davis (1847)
  • Cashel of Munster (1867)
  • The Coolun (1867)
  • Dear Dark Head (1867)
  • The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson (published 1887)
  • Poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson (published 1918)

See also

  • Richard Burchett, English artist, married to Ferguson's neice, who died while staying with Ferguson in Dublin.

External links

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