Browne, Frances (1816–79), writer, was born 16 January 1816 in Stranorlar, Co. Donegal, seventh among twelve children of Samuel Browne, postmaster of Stranorlar, and his wife Frances (née Luke). Though blinded by smallpox at the age of 18 months, she picked up an education from her family and other children as they repeated lessons in the village school, and from books read to her. Classmates included Isaac Butt (qv) and William MacArthur (qv). She started writing poetry at the age of seven; some of her poems were published in the Northern Whig, and in the Irish Penny Journal of 27 February and 6 March 1841. The Athenæum and Hood's Magazine also published her work, and a volume of poems, The star of Attéghéi, appeared in 1844. Her small earnings and a gift of £100 from Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (qv), 3rd marquess of Lansdowne, supported herself and a sister, her amanuensis. They moved first to Edinburgh (1847), where she knew the writer ‘Christopher North’ (John Wilson (1785–1854)) and his circle, and then to London (1852). Browne wrote a great deal of poetry; three three-volume novels, My share of the world: an autobiography (1861) (the subtitle is a fictional device, the protagonist being a first-person male narrator), The Castleford case (1862), and The hidden sin (1866); and The Ericksons (1852) and Our uncle the traveller's stories (1859) for children. She published much in magazines and newspapers, including ‘Legends of Ulster’, but is remembered today chiefly for Granny's wonderful chair and its tales of fairy times (1857). This collection of richly worked and imaginative stories for children was brought to public attention again by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849–1924), who first plagiarised some of the stories in 1886–8, and later retold them, and the book has since been reprinted at least twenty times. Browne received a small civil list pension in 1863, but was bankrupt in April 1867. She died, unmarried, of apoplexy in Richmond, Surrey, England, on 21 August 1879.
‘The Leisure Hour and its contributors’, The Leisure Hour, Jan. 1902, 245–6; Boase; D. J. O'Donoghue, The poets of Ireland (1912); DNB MP; Brenda O'Hanrahan, Donegal authors: a bibliography (1982), 49; Anne Ulry Colman, Dictionary of nineteenth-century Irish women poets (1996); R. Loeber and M. Loeber. A guide to Irish fiction 1650–1900 (2006); BIF; Field Day anthology, iv (2002), 893; Thomas McLean, ‘Arms and the Circassian woman: Frances Browne's The star of Attéghéi’, Victorian Poetry, xli, no. 3 (2003), 295–318; ODNB; Patrick Bonar, The blind poetess of Ulster: the life and works of Frances Browne (2008); Frances Browne pages (includes photograph), The History Trail: stories, articles, and images of Ballybofey and Stranorlar, www.finnvalley.ie/historytrail; 'Headstone inscriptions, Stranorlar parish church', Donegal Genealogy Resources, freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~donegal (websites accessed Sept. 2011); information from Raymond Blair, Limavady