Davis, Francis (1810–85), poet, was born 7 or 17 March 1810 in Ballincollig, Co. Cork, or in Belfast, son of Francis Davis, farmer's son from near Hillsborough, Co. Down, and Jane Davis (née McAfee), possibly from near Bushmills, Co. Antrim. His father impulsively enlisted in the cavalry because of a passion for horses and (though bought out by his wife) reenlisted and lost the family farm, was dismissed as unfit after an accident, and died penniless. Francis's mother seems to have been related to a Dan McAfee or McFee who was locally prominent in the United Irish rebellion of 1798. She taught Francis to read, hoping that he would become a minister, and introduced him to poetry and music; they returned to Hillsborough, where he attended school until he was 10. After his mother died, he worked in Lisburn for a rich relation, a cess-collector, who treated him badly; he then went to work as a muslin-weaver. He studied by himself and taught himself several languages. When he refused to join the Orange Order his fellow workers forced him to leave his employment; he visited Scotland and worked for a time in Manchester, where he met Irish emigrants who introduced him to the romantic nationalism of his namesake Thomas Davis (qv).
Many of Francis Davis's poems were published in the Nation in the 1840s; he wrote as ‘The Belfastman’, expressing his hope that Ulster would become the ‘fourth leaf on the shamrock’. In 1843 he took up weaving in Belfast; the seneschal of Belfast, Samuel Elliott, helped him publish his first volume, Miscellaneous poems and songs (1847), which was very well received. He edited and wrote most of a shortlived magazine, the Belfastman's Journal (1850), and later worked as a proofreader in a publishing house, and as a reporter; he was librarian of the Belfast People's Institute until he was appointed (1860) assistant registrar of QCB. He received a civil list pension of £50 a year, and for a time lived rent-free in a house provided by a friend; his volumes of poetry, which included Leaves from our cypress and our oak (1863) and a collected volume, Earlier and later leaves (1878), were popular in their own day. He was married (though his wife's name is unknown), and late in life had at least two daughters, one of whom, ‘Vickie D.’, to Davis's great grief, died on 23 November 1869, aged six. In 1875/6 Davis became a Roman catholic; he is said to have been particularly attracted by the doctrine of purgatory, and to have been devoutly religious. He was at one time described as ‘Belfast's brightest ornament' , but was almost forgotten at his death in Alloa St., Belfast, on 7 October 1885. He was buried in the catholic cemetery, Belfast; his photograph is the frontispiece to Earlier and later leaves.