Trench, (Frederic) Herbert (1865–1923), poet and playwright, was born 12 November 1865 in Avoncore, Midleton, Co. Cork, eldest son of William Wallace Trench, gentleman farmer, and Elizabeth Trench (née Allen). He was educated from 1880 at Haileybury, Oxford – where he co-edited Haileybury verses (1882) with R. F. Sharp – and graduated in 1888 from Keble College, Oxford, with a first class degree in modern history. The following year he was elected to a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford. Employed by the Board of Education, first as a temporary, then as a senior examiner (1891–1908/09), he travelled in Europe, Egypt, Russia, northern Africa, and Syria, and collected pictures and statuary.
He published several volumes of poetry, the first and most notable being Deirdre wed, and other poems (1900). The title poem, later re-titled by Trench as ‘Deirdre wedded’, is based on an episode from the ancient Irish legend in which Deirdre (qv) and her lover Naois (Noísiu) elope and flee from King Conchobor and his warriors. This was followed in 1901 by his translation from the Russian of D. S. Merezhkovsky's The death of the gods. Other collections included New poems (1907), Lyrics and narrative poems (1911), Poems: with fables in prose (1918), and the posthumously published Selected poems (1924) and three-volume Collected works (1924); the first volume of the latter has a frontispiece photograph of a bronze portrait bust of Trench by Antonio Maraini. Several of his poems, including ‘Apollo and the seaman’ (1908) and ‘Killary’ (1909), were set to music by Joseph Holbrooke and other composers.
Trench's poetry is characteristically concerned with universal rather than personal themes. While it is not easy to identify the influences on his work, in later life he acknowledged Matthew Arnold as an inspirational force. With the exception of a few key commentators such as Austin Clarke (qv), who considered Trench to be neglected, his works made little impression; his lack of recognition has been attributed to his having worked outside the circle of Irish literary nationalism. Having spent most of his life outside of Ireland, he considered himself more English than Irish and identified principally with the English literary tradition. He did, however, frequently attend poetry recitals at the London Irish Literary Society.
Trench was artistic director of the Haymarket theatre, London (1908–11), an involvement that in part explains a shift in his later writing from poetry to drama. Subsequently he moved to Settignano near Florence, where in 1917 he helped to found the British Institute, which he served as honorary vice-chairman. Having first visited Italy when aged nineteen, he had made frequent trips there before deciding to make it his home. His only completed play was a dramatised chronicle, ‘Napoleon’. Set mainly in and around Boulogne-sur-Mer, on the French coast of the English Channel, it was produced by the Incorporated Stage Society in 1919, but met with little success. An accident of undocumented nature that occurred in that year, from which he never entirely recovered, cut short his writing career. Trench married (1891) Lilian Isabel Fox, daughter of Robert Fox of Falmouth, Cornwall. He died suddenly 11 June 1923 in hospital in Boulogne-sur-Mer.