William Allingham Biography

Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

William Allingham can be considered more quintessentially Anglo-Irish than other representatives of that breed because he was truly poised between the two spheres. In his first thirty-nine years, Ireland was his home; the last twenty-six were spent almost exclusively in England. Allingham’s final visit to Ireland occurred as early as 1866, on the occasion of his father’s funeral. The demarcation between the two lives, however, is not as clear as the mere circumstance of residence would seem to indicate. During the Irish years (1824-1863), he often visited England, where most of his friends and correspondents were. During the English years (1863-1889), his mind constantly returned to Ireland, as is evidenced in his writing and conversation.

Allingham was born in the western Ireland port town of Ballyshannon, County Donegal, situated at the mouth of the River Erne. Ballyshannon and vicinity would provide the setting for most of his well-known ballads and lyrics. His family was Protestant, having migrated from Hampshire more than two hundred years earlier. William Allingham: A Diary reports that his parents, William and Elizabeth, were both “undemonstrative,” and his mother’s early death in 1833 probably contributed to a curious personality trait observable in Allingham throughout his life—a simultaneous love of solitude and desire for companionship. “Has anyone walked alone as much as I?” he asked in his diary in 1865, and then immediately gave the counterpoint: “And who fonder of congenial company?”

His father, formerly a merchant, removed his son from a local boarding school at the age of thirteen and installed him as a clerk in the branch bank that he had managed for several years. Thenceforth Allingham educated himself at home during his spare time, no mean feat in the light of his...

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