Frances Browne, the Blind Poetess of Ulster, is the most important writer ever to emerge from Donegal's Finn Valley, in the North West of Ireland.
The Finn Valley area is Ireland's most important district in linguistic terms. All three of Ireland's traditional languages, Irish, English, and Ulster-Scots are widely spoken in the Finn Valley. This situation is unique in Ireland.
Frances Browne's most famous poem, "Songs of our land," is a reflection on language, and how the soul of a nation is encapsulated in its literary outputs. She wrote prolifically in all formats. She was as much at home with an essay, an article, or a novel as she was with her great fortes, poetry and childrens' writing.
Her masterpiece, the children’s storybook "Granny's Wonderful Chair" was a bestseller all over the world, but she also deserves to be remembered for her unswerving opposition to slavery and all sorts of injustice.
The Annual Frances Browne Literary Festival celebrates the legacy and spirit of Frances Browne. We work to bring not only Frances's writing and astonishing life story to new generations but to celebrate the works of contemporary and modern writers who continue in her tradition.
2022 Festival Programme
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by Shirley-Anne Godfrey, IRC Scholar, NUI Galway. August 2021
Frances Browne: Literary Achievements
Despite a lack of formal education, being blind, and the limitations of geographical isolation, poverty and gendered expectations of her time, Frances Browne became a literary celebrity in her day. Known as “The Blind Poetess of Ulster”, she worked chiefly in Edinburgh and then London.
Browne wrote three collections of poetry, three three-volume novels, many short stories and essays. She was a prolific journalist and reviewer for many prominent magazines and is chiefly remembered for her best-selling children's storybook Granny's Wonderful Chair (1857). Browne became a literary celebrity in Edinburgh and London literary circles: a poet, novelist, children’s author as well as a popular and prolific non-fiction essayist and writer of serialised fiction. It is estimated by Alexis Easley that by 1866, Browne had published a staggering 178 articles in periodicals, 109 individually published poems and seventy-eight works of periodical fiction, including sixteen serials.
These enormous achievements have not translated into contemporary recognition, and Frances Browne has been effectively erased from the Canon of Irish literature. Apart from cursory references in anthologies, Browne is virtually absent from the public memory with the exception of local interest.
Patrick Bonar’s The Life and Work of Frances Browne (2007) pioneered a revival of local interest in Browne, and Raymond Blair’s The Best of Frances Browne (2012) further emphasised the sheer variety and breadth of Browne’s prolific literary output. Pauline Holland’s chapter on Browne in Treasure Each Voice (2010) provided the first scholarly consideration of Browne’s life and work and evidences a recent renewed academic interest in Browne’s writing.
In New Media and the Rise of the Popular Woman Writer 1832-1860 (2021), Alexis Easley discusses how Browne’s savvy construction of her public image and her ability to present different aspects of her identity to different publics meant that she could at once occupy the role of rural, working-class artist in the Irish Penny Journal and a more cosmopolitan, urbane commentator for the high-brow Athenaeum, as well as simultaneously write with an Irish nationalist tone in her poetry.
Heather Tilley discusses Brown’s novel My Share of the World in dialogue with Wilkie Collins’ Poor Miss Finch in Blindness and Writing : from Wordsworth to Gissing. (2018)Apart from these contributions from Victorian studies and Disability studies, Browne is chiefly referenced in studies on children's literature. Andrew Sneddon and John Privelege, at the Coleraine campus, University of Ulster, include Granny’s Wonderful Chair and a poem The May Yarrain their database ‘The Supernatural in Ulster Scots Literature and Folklore Reader’ and point out that Brown “arguably anticipates the supernaturalism of the Irish literary revival.”
Browne’s writings champion the working class, tenant rights, children’s rights, and the urban poor. Her anti-slavery, anti-war and anti-imperialist political positions and non-sectarian attitudes are evident in her writing and demonstrate just how essentially modern her consciousness was.
Her successful writing career at a time when it was considered barely respectable for a woman to write, as well as clearly proto-feminist intentions in some of her work, mean that a reconsideration of Browne’s work is both timely and necessary. Browne’s own complex identity embraces Irishness and an Ulster Scots heritage.
Writing from the seat of empire, Browne’s representation and celebration of cultural complexities in her Legends of Ulster and other writings make her a worthy avatar for cultural pluralism on this island and beyond. Never entirely embraced by one “tribe” or another, rehabilitating her literary legacy and sharing her heritage(s) remain urgent and exciting projects.
Most of Browne’s original writings can be accessed on Google Books, or archive.org
The Star of the Atteghei, the Vision of Schwartz; and other Poems (1844)
Lyrics and Miscellaneous Poems (1847)
Pictures and Songs of Home (1856).
My Share of the World (1861)
The Castleford Case (1862)
The Hidden Sin (1866) (anonymously)
The Legends of Ulster (1849-51)
These twelve legends include the following set in Donegal : The Unlucky Birthnight (Barnes Gap), The Wreckers of Fannet (Fanad), The Sharon Ruction (Newtoncunnigham) , O Donnell’s Penance (Donegal town), O’ Cleery’s Tenant Right (Dungloe) The May Eve’s Yarra (Inishowen)
The Ericksons; The Clever Boy or Consider Another -two Stories for my Young Friends (1852)
Granny’s Wonderful Chair and its Tales of Fairy Times (1857)
The Orphans of Elfholm (1862)
The Young Foresters. Groombridge, 1864.
The Exile's Trust : a Tale of the French Revolution and Other Stories. 1869.
The Nearest Neighbours, and Other Stories., 1875.
Blair, Raymond. The Best of Frances Browne : Poems, Stories and Essays by the Blind Genius of Stranorlar. Rathmore Books. 2012.
Bonar, Patrick. The Life and Works of Frances Browne. 2007
Easley, Alexis “Publishing and Reception”. The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women's Poetry, edited by, Linda K. Hughes, Cambridge University Press, 2019, Hughes, Linda K. p 97-113.
Easley, Alexis New Media and the Rise of the Popular Woman Writer 1832-1860. Edinburgh University Press. 2021.
Holland Pauline ed. Treasure each voice: 400 years of Anglo-Irish, Irish and Ulster-Scots literature from Stranorlar. 2010 p. 743-750
Tilley, Heather. “Frances Browne: Toward a poetics of Blind Writing.” Journal of literary and Cultural Disability Studies. 3.2. (2009) : p.147-161.
Tilley, Heather. “Embodying Blindness in the Victorian Novel Frances Browne’s My Share of the World and Wilkie Collins’s Poor Miss Finch”. Blindness and Writing : from Wordsworth to Gissing. Cambridge University Press, 2018. p.182-207.
Committee and Partners
Contact us here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finn Valley Voice
Donegal County Council
An Grianán Theatre
Balor Arts Centre
Thank you to all our event sponsors who have kindly contributed to our 2021 Festival
Kee's Hotel and Leisure Centre
Karen Murphy- School of Speech and Drama
Ballybofey Bank of Ireland
Ballybofey & Stranorlar Credit Union
Alexanders of Ballybofey
Foy & Company
Illustrations from works by Frances Browne
Granny's Wonderful Chair
2021 Festival Programme
We are delighted to launch our programme for the 2021 Frances Browne Literary Festival