Forrester, Ellen (Magennis) (1828–83), nationalist and poet, was probably born in Clones, Co. Monaghan, sixth child of a local schoolmaster; her mother was a presbyterian, who in later life converted to catholicism. At the age of 17 she moved to England, and after a period working as a nursery governess in Liverpool, she settled in Manchester, where she married (c.1847) Michael Forrester, a stonemason. He was a heavy drinker who died of consumption while still young, leaving her to raise their five children, the eldest of whom was ten. Having written poetry since her youth, she then began contributing verse (much of it sentimental) to various English and Irish journals, among them the Dundalk Democrat, the Nation, and the Weekly Budget, to support her family. Three of her children – Arthur, Fanny, and Mary – also wrote verse. An ardent nationalist, she assisted Caroline Douglas (qv), marchioness of Queensberry, in her defence fund for the ‘Manchester martyrs’. She was a friend of Michael Davitt (qv), whom she approached in 1869 for help after the arrest of her son Arthur (1850–95), who had joined the IRB in 1866 and become a leading Lancashire Fenian. During his own imprisonment Davitt sought permission from the authorities in Millbank penitentiary for her to visit him; however, the application was rejected on the grounds of her being a ‘notorious Fenian-sympathiser’. Over the years he got to know her well and held her in high regard. Her first volume of poetry, Simple strains, appeared c.1860 and was followed by a collection entitled Songs of the rising nation (1869), which also included verses by her children Arthur and Fanny. Despite years of poor health and poverty, accounts of her life indicate she maintained her good humour and positive outlook. She died in Salford 6 January 1883 and was buried in the local catholic cemetery. Her brother Bernard Magennis was also a writer. Her son Arthur emigrated to America around 1873 and worked occasionally as a journalist; his health was poor and he died in poverty (13 January 1895).
Michael McDonagh, Irish graves in England (1888); D. C. Rushe, History of Monaghan for two hundred years 1660–1860 (1921); T. W. Moody, ‘Michael Davitt and the “Pen” letter’, IHS, iv, no. 15 (Mar. 1945), 224–53; id., Davitt and Irish revolution 1841–82 (1981); Anne Ulry Colman, A dictionary of nineteenth-century Irish women poets (1996)