Frances Browne is known nationally as “The Blind Poetess of Ulster” and was born in Stranorlar, Co. Donegal on the 16th January 1816, the seventh of twelve children.
When she was eighteen months old she contracted small pox and as a result lost her eyesight. Frances strove with all the strength of her own to overcome the handicap of blindness and educated herself. She did not attend school during the day but in the evening time when her brothers and sisters were doing their homework, Frances would listen to them reading aloud. Frances was able to recite many of the verses her siblings had learned. She continued to educate herself by bribing her brothers and sisters to read books to her, she achieved this by doing their household chores.
Her talent for poetry developed at an early age. At the age of seven she wrote her first poem, a version of “The Lord’s Prayer”. In 1841, her first poems were published in the Irish Penny Journal and in the London Athenauem. She published her first volume of poems in 1844 and a second volume in 1847.
In 1847 Frances, and her sister Rebecca moved to Edinburgh where she found employment with Chambers Magazine. She was actively involved in the Scottish capital’s literary circle producing not only poems but news articles, reviews, stories and eventually children’s stories.
Frances moved to London in 1852 and it was from here that she began to write novels. She wrote three novels ‘The Hidden Sin’, ‘My Share of the World’ and ‘The Castleford Case’ each book was comprised of three volumes. In 1857 Frances wrote her best work ‘Granny’s Wonderful Chair’. This collection of fairy tales became a best seller and was republished many times, in countries all around the world. Frances last work, a poem entitled “The Children’s Day” was composed a week before her death.
Frances died from apoplexy in Richmond, Surrey on the 21st August, 1879 and she is buried in the cemetery at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Richmond. Recently to revive the interest in Frances Browne, ‘The Life and Works of Frances Browne’ was published in 2007 and in 2008 the Frances Browne Poetry Competition was launched. Coillte recently erected a boulder in Drumboe Woods, Stranorlar and inscribed on it is a verse from her poem “A Parting Voice.
On the 21st July, 2012 a monument was unveiled in Stranorlar in tribute to Frances Browne.