Larminie, William (1849–1900), poet and folktale collector, was born 1 August 1849 in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, youngest son of William Larminie, who seems to have been a land agent or bank official, and was protestant, of Huguenot descent, and his wife Bridget (‘Beda’), daughter of Col. John Jackson, also from Mayo. He had one older brother; another older brother and sister died at or near birth. The family moved to Co. Wicklow on the father's death (1856), and William was educated at Kingstown school, Co. Dublin, and at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he graduated (1871), obtaining a moderatorship in classics, a medal, and other prizes. He trained at the Queen's Service Academy in Dublin, and took first place in Ireland, second in the UK, in the civil service examinations in June 1873. He subsequently entered the India office in London as a junior clerk, first class. In London he lived with his mother; he never married. He became acquainted with W. B. Yeats (qv) and other Irish writers who took part in what later became known as the Irish literary revival. Inspired by reading the history of Ireland written by Standish James O'Grady (qv), he developed a great interest in Irish legends and landscape, and spent his annual holidays learning the Irish language in Mayo. He retired early, possibly after suffering poor health, and in 1887 came back to live in Ireland with his mother in Prince of Wales Terrace, Bray, Co. Wicklow, wanting to concentrate on literary and scholarly work.
Larminie visited gaeltachtaí (Irish-speaking areas) in Glencolumbkille and Malinmore, Co. Donegal, Renvyle, Co. Galway, and Achill, Co. Mayo, to collect folklore and folktales, generally accompanied by his friend James Lecky. He was on friendly terms with Douglas Hyde (qv) and recorded two stories published in Hyde's Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta (1889). Hyde praised his folklore collection and called him ‘the most under-rated man in Ireland’ (Eglinton, 13). Eighteen of the tales collected by Larminie and Lecky appear in West Irish folk tales and romances (1893). The tales were translated literally by Larminie and were prefaced with an essay on the origin and sources of folklore, in which he placed Irish folktales in a comparative context, discussing the Grimm brothers’ collections and Scottish Highland tales as well as current folklore theory. He was keen to record the words of the tellers as accurately as possible, and included biographical details of his informants (all of whom were men). Although the tales are published in English translation, phonetic transcriptions of extensive samples of the original texts from the three areas are included. While both collectors understood a certain amount of Irish, it was Lecky who prepared the phonetics. In a review entitled ‘The evangel of folk-lore’ in The Bookman (June 1894), Yeats wrote that Larminie's work was ‘as fine a book as the best that has been’. The following year Yeats included the work in ‘Irish national literature. IV. – A list of the best Irish books’ in The Bookman (October 1895). Yeats appears to have held Larminie in greater esteem as a collector of folktales than as a poet; none of Larminie's work was included in Yeats's A book of Irish verse (1895).
Larminie had begun to write poetry around 1864 when he was 15. A collection of poetry by Anna Louisa Hildebrand, Western lyrics (1872), made a lasting impression, inspiring him to write patriotic verse. He rejected politics and current affairs as subject-matter, preferring instead to draw upon folklore, myth, and philosophy. He published two collections of poetry, Glanlua and other poems (1889) and Fand and other poems (1892), which contains his best-known poems, ‘The nameless doon’, ‘Consolation’, and ‘Moytura’, a poetic rendering of the events of the battle of Magh Tuireadh. He brought a spiritual dimension to his work, interpreting ‘Moytura’ as a conflict between the forces of good and evil. A manuscript in the Irish folklore archives at University College Dublin (UCD) contains many unpublished poems.
In his poetic works Larminie tried to capture the assonance of poetry in the Irish language. He described his approach in ‘The development of English metres’ (Contemporary Review (November 1894), 66) in which he advocated the adoption of assonance and other Irish metrical patterns in English poetry, but was not himself particularly successful in the use of such innovations. Fand was unfavourably reviewed by Yeats who stated that Larminie ‘may do better when he has either abandoned or perfected the experimental rhythmic meters he has invented’ (United Ireland, July 23, 1892). Larminie's theories on the use of assonance later influenced Austin Clarke (qv) whose attention was initially drawn to them by George Russell (qv) (Æ).
Larminie was an active member of the National Literary Society of Ireland and contributed, along with Yeats, to a symposium in Dublin, the proceedings of which were published as Literary ideals in Ireland (1899). He spent many years working on a translation of ‘De divisione naturae’ by John Scotus Eriugena (qv). Larminie considered Eriugena to be heir to the traditions of Plato, and consequently treated him as a philosopher rather than as a theologian. Larminie's interest in the intellectual culture of early Ireland was unusual at the time. One critic, Thomas Duddy, regards Larminie's pioneering commentary on Eruigena, published in The Contemporary Review in 1897, as an exemplary and impressive approach to an aspect of intellectual history; dealing with an Irish-born figure of international significance. His translation, however, was never published, and his papers in connection with this project are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). He died of pneumonia 19 January 1900 in Bray, and was buried in Enniskerry churchyard, Co. Wicklow. He was survived by his invalid mother, who died in 1903.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).