Whyte, Laurence (1685?–1752/3), poet and teacher of mathematics, was probably son of Christopher White, a substantial catholic tenant farmer from Ballymore, Co. Westmeath, and his wife Anne Dalton. The family had been transplanted to Connacht under the Cromwellian acts of settlement but had found their way back to Ballymore during the restoration period. They supported King James II (qv) in his war with King William (qv); one of the family, Capt. Thomas White, raised a company of horse for James's army, followed his king into exile, and died in French service in 1705.
No information in regard to Laurence Whyte's education has been traced. It is probable that his early education, like that of the children of the strong farmer in his poem ‘The parting cup’, took place at home. His later education was sound enough to equip him for the profession of mathematics teacher, which he was to follow. As a teacher he must have been held in some regard, for his name occasionally appears in TCD records as a former tutor of students entering the college. Moving to Dublin as a young man, he lived nearly all his life there in a modest house in Rosemary Lane, off Merchant's Quay.
Given his background, Whyte's sympathy with catholics and Jacobites, apparent in many of his poems, is understandable. His deep interest in music led him to the Charitable Musical Society, which he represents as a bridge-builder between catholics and protestants, with membership open to all comers. Whether he himself continued in the faith into which he had been born is a matter of some doubt. The way he chose to spell his name – Whyte – may be significant.
His first and main collection of verse, Poems on various subjects, was published in 1740, when he was probably in his mid-50s, and this was followed by a second, much smaller, collection – Original poems on various subjects – in 1742, the two together accounting for some 10,000 lines of verse. His most notable poem, ‘The parting cup, or the humours of Deoch an Doruis’, is concerned with the life of a substantial tenant farmer from Co. Westmeath in the early eighteenth century. Whyte nicknames the farmer ‘Deoch an Doruis’, but one suspects (and there is internal evidence for the suspicion) that the prototypes for the farmer and his wife were Whyte's own father and mother. An early biographer of Oliver Goldsmith (qv), Sir James Prior (qv), noted the similarity in theme between ‘The parting cup’ and Goldsmith's ‘The deserted village’ and posited the probability that Goldsmith had been inspired by Whyte's poem. Certainly, Goldsmith cannot have been unaware of ‘The parting cup’, since Lissoy, where he was reared, is only half-a-dozen miles from Whyte's native Ballymore. The two poems can be said to complement each other in that while Goldsmith deals with a rural society in its public manifestations – after all, the parson's son was necessarily something of an outsider – Whyte gets behind the scene to the domestic situation and describes minutely the life of the strong farmer, what he ate and drank, how he was clothed, how he reared his children, the games and pastimes.
Whyte's will was made in 1752 and proved 6 February 1753, indicating that he died early in 1753 or towards the end of 1752. The name of his first wife is unknown; his second wife, Mary (née Burke), appears to have survived him by twenty-one years. His will names two sons and two daughters. While no great claims can be made for his competence as a poet, his verse is of considerable importance to the social historian, as a realistic description of life as he experienced it in Dublin and in his native Westmeath.