Ingram, John Kells (1823–1907), economist, poet, and academic, was born 7 July 1823, eldest of five children of the Rev. William Ingram and Elizabeth Ingram (née Cooke). His father, a scholar at TCD in 1790, was rector of Templecarne, on the Donegal–Fermanagh border, near Pettigo. John Kells Ingram was educated at Mr Lyons's school, Newry, where his mother moved after his father's death (1829), and at TCD, which he entered in 1837. He became a scholar (1840), senior moderator in mathematics (1842), and a fellow (1846). He served as professor of oratory (1852–66), English literature (1855–1866), regius professor of Greek (1866–79), librarian (1879–86), senior lecturer (1886–93), registrar (1893–6) and vice-provost (1898–9). He resigned in 1899 but remained active in research and publication: his writings included archaeology, mathematics, etymology, the classics, medieval manuscripts, English literature, and economics.
His higher degrees were MA (1850), LLB and LLD (1852), and LLD (h.c.) (Glasgow) (1893). He was elected to the RIA in 1847, served for forty-three years on its governing body, and was secretary for eighteen years and vice-president for twelve before becoming president (1892–6). He was a founding member of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland in 1847, a response to social problems such as the famine rather than to an interest in ‘dilettante statistics’. He served as a council member (1847–57), secretary (1854–6), vice-president (1857–77), and president (1878–80). He was a trustee of the NLI from 1877 to his death in 1907, and was on the founding committee of the classics journal Hermathena in 1873.
Ingram's economic and social thinking was strongly influenced by Auguste Comte, whom he met in 1855. Ingram's outstanding international reputation in economics rests on his History of political economy (1888), which was translated into German, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Italian, Swedish, French, Czech, and Japanese, and brought him the distinction of honorary membership of the American Economics Association in 1891. His thesis, expressed in an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1888, was that the study of economics ought to be systematically combined with that of other aspects of social existence; that the excessive tendency to abstraction and to unreal assumptions should be checked; that the a priori deductive method ought to be changed for the historical; and that economic laws and the practical prescriptions founded on them should be conceived and expressed in a less absolute form. Ingram criticised Ricardo in particular ‘for viciously abstract presentations of concepts’. Economists, he considered, exaggerated immensely the office of deduction in their investigations. There was a ‘too absolute character in the theoretical and practical conclusions of economists’. They should examine also factors such as political institutions, family arrangements, religious beliefs, morals, and customs. Ingram also contributed many articles on economics to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Palgrave's dictionary of economics.
Ingram was the founder of the school of English literature at TCD and wrote many fine poems, of which the most famous is ‘The memory of the dead’ (‘Who fears to speak of ‘Ninety-eight?’). After a discussion with fellow students on 1798, Ingram withdrew to his bedroom, wrote the ballad overnight, and left it in at the office of The Nation, the Young Ireland newspaper; it was published in The Nation on 1 April 1843. Ingram saw 1798 in terms of ideals rather than in subsequent interpretations along ‘Orange and Green’ lines. He wrote in 1900 that ‘some persons have believed or affected to believe that I am ashamed of having written it, and would gladly, if I could, disown its ownership. Those who know me do not need to be told that this idea is without foundation’ (prefatory note to Sonnets and other poems (1900)). Ingram's grandfather was a presbyterian who in 1782 raised in Mountnorris, Co. Armagh, a corps known as the Lisdrumhure volunteers. According to McDowell and Webb, Ingram was ‘on most political issues . . . well to the left of his colleagues’ (Trinity College Dublin 1592–1952: an academic history (1982), 294). Ingram addressed the trade union congress in Dublin in 1888 and supported the admission of women to higher education, and to Mrs Anne Jellicoe (qv) (founder and first principal of Alexandra College) he dedicated his poem ‘T. A. J., a monody’, described by Lyster as ‘Dr Ingram's longest flight of sustained noble excellence in verse’.
Ingram died at his home on 1 May 1907. His funeral was at TCD college chapel and his grave is at Mount Jerome. The Times in its obituary stated that ‘those who worked with Ingram in Trinity College were persuaded that he was the best educated man in Europe’, while the Irish Times stated that ‘in Dr Ingram, Ireland loses her ripest scholar and one of her most loveable and interesting personalities’ (obituary columns, 2 May 1907). He was an outstanding scholar at TCD in an era ‘in which the reputation of the college was higher than ever before or since’ (McDowell & Webb, 284). Among his last public statements on policy issues was a defence of the autonomy of TCD in January 1907.
Ingram married (1862) Madeline, daughter of James Johnston Clark, DL, of Largantogher, Maghera, Co. Londonderry. They had four sons: Francis Ernest (d. 1866), Thomas Dunbar (scholar of TCD 1890; d. 1892), William Alexander (m. (1895) Maud Alice Heygate and lived at Ballykelly, Co. Londonderry), and John Kells, who lived in South Africa. They had two daughters, Florence Beatrice (d. 1918) and Madeline Townley Balfour (d. 1955), whose former farm and residence at Townley Hall, Co. Louth housed the TCD school of agriculture as John Kells Ingram Farm from 1959 to 1968.
John Kells Ingram lived at the rectory, Templecarne (1823–9), 35 Hill St., Newry (1829–37), and, in Dublin, at TCD (1837–62), 2 Wellington Road (1862–84), and 38 Upper Mount St. (1884–1907). Portraits by Sarah Purser (qv) are in the Common Room, TCD, and the RIA. Ingram's papers are at the PRONI. An Leabharlann (1909) carried a bibliography of his writings, prepared by T. W. Lyster (qv), librarian of the NLI.