Gerald Griffin was the son of a well-to-do brewer in Limerick, Ireland. As a boy, he studied with a tutor part of the time and attended schools in Limerick and Longhill. He later went to England and studied for a time at the University of London, intending to become a lawyer. He turned to writing and became the author of nine novels, although only three were published during his lifetime. The most famous of his novels is The Collegians. He also wrote several volumes of short stories, as well as an opera, The Noyades, and the play Gisippus, which he wrote before he was twenty.
In his works, Griffin dealt generally with the people and countryside of his native Ireland. He dealt especially with the lives of peasants, fishermen, and smugglers on the Irish coast, and with the differences between their lives and those of the landed gentry. As a poet, he achieved popularity in Ireland because his lyrics were concerned with Ireland and Irish life. In his maturity, Griffin came to doubt life, and in 1838 he entered the Society of the Christian Brothers under the name of Brother Joseph. Fearing the moral influence of his writings, he destroyed many of his manuscripts. Before he finished his novitiate, however, he contracted typhus and died. His tragedy Gisippus, which had escaped destruction at his hands, was produced in London in 1842, two years after the author’s death, and was hailed as a stage success. Some years later, Dion Boucicault created a famous melodrama, The Colleen Bawn, based on The Collegians. Later critics have been in agreement that Griffin, although known as a novelist, was a better artist with the short story, for his longer prose tends to lose unity; the simplicity of the tales, which in the short stories is a virtue, becomes a fault in his longer fiction.