Allingham, William (1824–89), poet and customs official, was born 19 March 1824 in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, eldest of five children of William Allingham, merchant and bank manager, and Elizabeth Allingham (née Crawford). A brother died in infancy; his mother died when Allingham was 9. He was educated locally, then boarded at Killeshandra, but left school reluctantly at 14 to work in the Ballyshannon bank. Seven years later he became principal coast officer for Co. Donegal at £80 a year, making returns on cargoes, emigrant ships, and wrecks. He published poetry, and in 1843 began corresponding with Leigh Hunt. In 1847 he started to visit London during his annual summer leaves, and through Hunt was introduced to many leading literary figures. His friends included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Coventry Patmore, W. M. Thackeray, Francis Sylvester Mahony (qv), and Edward and Georgina Burne-Jones; his most important friendships were with Alfred Tennyson, D. G. Rossetti, and Thomas Carlyle. During what he called his ‘quiet exiles’ in Ireland, he corresponded with these friends and recorded meetings in his diaries; these and his letters are thus an excellent source on Victorian literary culture.
In 1850 he published Poems; in 1854, a revised version, Day and night songs. A second edition (1855) had additional poems and illustrations by J. E. Millais and D. G. Rossetti. He tried journalism in London (1854) but disliked it, and returned to the customs in Coleraine and at Ballyshannon (1856–63). He transferred to Lymington, Hampshire, thereafter finding it easier to keep in touch with literary life in London. In 1864 he published his most ambitious work, Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland, a verse novel dealing with the contemporary Irish problems of land and landlordism, using the eighteenth-century heroic couplet, and incorporating local colour and some political satire. He was in receipt of a civil list pension of £60 from 1864, and of £100 from 1870. He published Fifty modern poems (1865); accounts of his walking tours, which appeared as The rambles of Patricius Walker (1873); Songs, ballads and stories (1877); and his collected works in six volumes (1888–93). He also published an anthology of traditional ballads, The ballad book (1865). In 1870 he resigned his customs post, becoming sub-editor (later editor) of Fraser's Magazine in London. He retired (1879) to Surrey, then to Hampstead, and died 18 November 1889 at Lyndhurst Rd, Hampstead; he was cremated in Woking, Surrey, and buried in Ballyshannon. He married (22 August 1874) Helen, daughter of Dr Alexander Peterson (and later, as Helen Allingham, a well known watercolour painter); they had two sons and a daughter. Allingham is generally remembered as the author of a few short poems: ‘The fairies’, for instance, is still read by schoolchildren. Laurence Bloomfield – well thought of by some critics in his own day, including Gladstone – is no longer widely read. His diary reveals why he is still of interest today: he found a niche in the heart of Victorian culture, though he came from a background and had had a life and employment markedly different from those of the people he encountered in London. One indication of his continuing commitment to his origins is the delight he took in hearing his poems sung as ballads in the streets of his beloved Ballyshannon.