Downes, George (1790–1846), travel writer and topographer, was born in South King St., Dublin, son of John Downes; no details of his mother are known. He worked as a draper's assistant in his youth before being befriended by one of the Shackletons of Ballitore, Co. Kildare, who sponsored his education. He entered TCD in July 1809, was granted a scholarship (1812), and subsequently graduated BA (1814) and MA (1823). He was appointed principal of the Literary and Agricultural Seminary, Fallowlee, Co. Londonderry, in 1827, and in his later years he worked as a cataloguer in the library of TCD.
Downes became a scholar of Germanic and Scandinavian languages; his first book was Letters from Mecklenburg and Holstein (1822). Much of his subsequent work was also in this genre, recording his extensive travels throughout Europe and, in one instance, his introduction to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Despite the merit of books such as Guide through Switzerland and Savoy (Paris, 1830) and Letters from continental countries (2 vols, Dublin, 1832), they never found a wide readership. Downes was accomplished in other literary genres: he published Dublin University prize poems: with Spanish and German ballads (1823), and contributed verse to the Amulet (1826, 1828) and Forget-Me-Not (1829–31), as well as producing a translation from Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone (1823). Interested in Irish studies, he worked with his friend George Petrie (qv) as a topographer on the ordnance survey. He was elected MRIA (1838), and read several papers to the Academy on Norse subjects, which were later published. He died, presumably unmarried, at Dalkey, Co. Dublin, 23 August 1846, and was buried at Ballitore, Co. Kildare. There is a substantial collection of papers in the NLI, including both personal correspondence and unpublished works.