Armstrong, Edmund John (1841–65), poet, was born 23 July 1841 in Mornington House, Upper Merrion St., Dublin, the second of three sons of Edmund John Armstrong, a clerk in the ecclesiastical commission, and his wife Jane, daughter of the Rev. Henry Savage (d. 1815) of Glastry, Co. Down; the eldest son died as a baby. The family soon moved to a large house in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, where the boys and their sister had a happy childhood. Edmund seems to have been educated at St Patrick's Cathedral School, and entered TCD in 1859. He was unusually hardworking, rising at 3.30 a.m. on most days to study, and gained a reputation as one of the most promising scholars and poets of his generation; he won three university prizes for Latin, Greek, and Hebrew poetry by composing unprecedentedly large numbers of verses in an examination. Unfortunately his exertions may have injured his health: in 1860 a bloodvessel in his lung burst and he nearly died. He was sent to Jersey to convalesce, and gradually regained his strength. He and his younger brother George, who idolised him, went on a walking tour of northern France in 1862. With only £7 between them, they had many adventures and misadventures. By June 1862 Edmund Armstrong was sufficiently recovered to undertake a tutorship in a family in the north of Ireland, possibly in Co. Armagh, and in the autumn of 1863 he reentered TCD. He wrote a great deal of poetry during this time, sometimes five poems a day. His speech in support of trade unions to the College Historical Society was acclaimed both as oratory and as composition, and he was elected president of the Philosophical Society; his presidential address of November 1864 was printed. His contemporaries expected great things of him; it was said that he was ‘the vivifying spirit, their light, the source of their energy’ (Armstrong, Life and letters, introduction). His long narrative poems, including ‘Glandalough’ and ‘The prisoner of Mont St Michel’, his nature poetry, and poems about his love for Ireland, especially for the Wicklow mountains, have largely lost their attraction for modern readers. A few humorous poems, and one savage poem about prostitution, ‘By gaslight’, suggest that he had wider capabilities.
Like many of his contemporaries, he suffered greatly after he lost his religious faith, but through a study of theology was regaining some of his spiritual equilibrium when he developed bronchitis in the winter of 1864–5, and relapsed into tuberculosis. On 24 February 1865, at Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), he died in his mother's arms. He was buried in Monkstown parish church. His fellow undergraduates contributed money to pay for the publication of his verses. These were first edited in one volume (1865) by his brother, George, who subsequently edited Edmund's collected poems, letters, and essays in three volumes (1877), with a memoir and a photograph.
George Francis Savage Armstrong (1845–1906), poet, was born 5 May 1845 in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, educated in Dublin and Jersey, and entered TCD in 1862. He took over from Edmund as president of the Philosophical Society in 1865, and won college prizes for poetry and oratory, including the vice-chancellor's medal in 1869. In that year also he published his first volume of poetry, Poems lyrical and dramatic, and graduated BA. He was professor of history and English literature in QCC (1870–1905) and a fellow of the RUI from 1881. He wrote many poems and poetic dramas, including Stories of Wicklow (1886), Victoria Regina et Imperatrix (1887), Tragedy of Israel, a play in three parts (1872–6), and Ballads of Down (1901). He was known as ‘the poet of Wicklow’; his name was suggested for the poet laureateship after Tennyson's death. He was awarded in 1891 a D.Litt. (RUI). In 1892 he wrote the tercentenary ode for TCD; it was set to music and performed to polite applause in the college celebrations of that year, but by that date Armstrong's other poetry, and his views about literature, were considered by the rising generation of Irish-revival poets and critics to be thoroughly outmoded and lacking proper national sentiment. Armstrong produced an elaborate genealogy of his mother's family (1888), and in 1891, to comply with the terms of an aunt's will, added Savage to his surname. He died 24 July 1906 at Strangford House, Co. Down.
He married (1879) Marie Elizabeth, daughter of John Wrixon, vicar of Malone, Co. Antrim. They had two sons and a daughter.