Ball, Francis Elrington (1863–1928), antiquarian and historian, was born 18 July 1863 at Portmarnock, Co. Dublin, third and youngest son of John Thomas Ball (qv), later lord chancellor of Ireland, and Catherine Ball (née Elrington), and was privately educated owing to poor health. Active in the organisation of the unionist party, he was persuaded to stand as an independent unionist for South Co. Dublin in the 1900 general election against the sitting member and official unionist candidate, Sir Horace Plunkett (qv), who had alienated many of his constituents by his endorsement of Balfourian amelioration and his support for interparty cooperation and a catholic university – unorthodox policies for a unionist MP. The election generated great excitement; Ball's candidature split the unionist vote, and the seat was lost to the nationalist candidate, J. J. Mooney (1874–1934), a result which, according to W. E. H. Lecky (qv), did ‘more than any other incident in modern times to injure, to divide and to discredit Irish unionism’ (Gailey, 156). Ball subsequently resigned from the Irish Unionist Alliance.
His temperament more suited to scholarship than the hustings, Ball abandoned politics and became a noted author. In collaboration with W. G. Strickland (qv), he made valuable suggestions for the proposed second edition of C. T. McCready's Dublin street names, dated and explained (1st ed. 1892); annotating his own copy, he subsequently presented it to the RSAI (1917). He went on to publish his monumental A history of the County Dublin (1902–20). This work was interrupted for several years, when, on the death of his friend C. L. Falkiner (qv), Ball as executor carried out Falkiner's plan to edit The correspondence of Jonathan Swift, D.D. (1910–14). The first annotated edition, it included previously unpublished letters, and Ball was conferred with an hon. Litt.D. by the University of Dublin (1911); he subsequently wrote Swift's verse: an essay (1929). Joint editor with Falkiner of vol. vi of the Calendar of the manuscripts of the marquess of Ormonde for the Historical Manuscripts Commission, Ball completed vols vii–viii (1912–20).
In 1926 he published his magisterial The judges in Ireland, 1221–1921, ‘a truly marvellous condensation of judicial history’ (Simpson, 31) giving the first comprehensive list of, and background information on, the medieval judges of Ireland. An indispensable reference work, it is also valued as a primary source since the documents in the Irish PRO on which it was based were destroyed in 1922. A member (1896), fellow (1899), hon. treasurer (1899, 1900), and vice-president (1901–4) of the RSAI, to whose journal he was a frequent contributor, he was also a member (1895), council member (1903–6, 1907–9, 1911–14, 1916–17) and vice-president (1905–6, 1912–14) of the RIA.
Troubled by political developments in Ireland, having ‘devoted the best years of my life to the defence of the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland, which I held and still hold to be necessary for the economic welfare of Ireland’ (Ball, p. xxii), and finding Ireland no longer a congenial place in which to live, he left (1920) his home at 56 Booterstown Ave, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, and settled in London. He married (1897) Florence Eglantine Hamilton (d. 1913); they had no children. Returning to Dublin, he read a paper, ‘Some notes on the households of the dukes of Ormonde’ before the RIA, December 1927, and died in a nursing home in Dublin, 7 January 1928; he was buried in Besselsleigh, Oxon., England, beside his wife.