Denis Fahy profiles the Irish economist and poet who started his career as a mathematician. However it is his poem The Memory of the Dead that is perhaps Ingram’s most enduring claim to fame. The Memory of the Dead, better known as ‘Who Fears to Speak of ‘98’, was written overnight after Ingram had spent an evening arguing Irish politics and history with a group of fellow Protestant students at Trinity College, Dublin. Ingram dared to speak of 98!


When John Kells Ingram died on May 1st, 1907, his friend and fellow academic Robert Tyrrell described him as probably the best educated man in the world.

The hyperbole in a hastily written obituary can be excused, particularly because Ingram was one of the most brilliant people of his time, a polymath who enjoyed a stellar career as a student, teacher, professor, librarian and vice provost during an association with Trinity College, Dublin that lasted for more than fifty years and a publisher in the fields of mathematics, economics, classical studies, philosophy and sociology.

Yet, had he not composed a ballad late one night in March 1843 in his room in the university, unaided, as he said, by alcohol or nicotine, he would be mostly forgotten now.

Ingram was born in Aughnahoo, Co Donegal, on July 7th, 1823, in the glebe house of the parish of Templecarne where his father William was the curate assistant. When William died in 1829, his mother Elizabeth moved the family to Newry, Co Down and supported them by opening a milliner’s shop.

He attended a classical school in the town and matriculated for the university in 1837. He became a scholar in 1840 and gained an honours BA in 1842.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own