William Carleton was born in Prillisk, Co Tyrone in 1794 to small farmers, and was one of fourteen children. His father was fluent in Irish and English and was an accomplished story-teller with, according to his son, an astonishing memory. His mother, Mary Kelly, was an accomplished singer in Irish, and was famous at wakes, where she acted as a keener. William was also a fluent Irish speaker. The family, already poor, were to experience even more greatly reduced circumstances, and were evicted in 1813. William converted to Protestantism, and in later years his anti-Catholic stance made him controversial. He married Jane Anderson in 1822.
After a stop-start education, he came across the classic novel Gil Blas, which inspired him to write, and in his thirties, he walked to Dublin, much like his admirer Patrick Kavanagh, and after failing to get employment on many occasions, received a lucky break when he was asked to write a sketch about Lough Derg, which he knew. The sketch was published by its editor, the Reverend Caesar Otway, in The Christian Examiner and Church of Ireland Gazette in 1828. Within two years he had published thirty sketches in the same periodical, and they were collected as Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (Dublin, William Curry, 5 volumes in two series, 1830-1833), which soon went through more than fifty editions before Carleton's death.
This was followed by Tales of Ireland (Dublin, Duffy Parlour Library of Ireland, 1833). His other works include Fardorougha the Miser, or the Convicts of Lisnamona (Dublin University Magazine, 1837-1838/London, Simms and Mcintyre, 1848/New York, D.&J. Sadlier & Co., 1886); Father Butler, the Lough Derg Pilgrim (Dublin, William Curry, 1839); The Fawn of Springvale, The Clarionet, and Other Tales (1841); A Legend of Knockmary ( Edinburgh & London, W.&R. Chambers, 16 January, 1841); The Irish Pipers. An account of the musicians who are most commonly found in Munster and Connaught (W.&R. Chambers, 19 March 1842); Valentine McClutchy, the Irish Agent, or Chronicles of the Castle Cumber Property (3 volumes, Dublin, James Duffy, 1845-1847/ New York. D.&J. Sadlier & Co., 1868); Art Maguire or the Broken Pledge (1845); The Battle of the Factions and other Tales of Ireland (1845); Denis O'Shaughnessy Going to Maynooth (1845); ; Phelim O'Toole's Courtship and The Poor Scholar (1845); The Black Prophet, a Tale of the Famine (Dublin University Magazine, January to June, 1846) [ published in book form as The Black Baronet, or, The Chronicals of Ballytrain (James Duffy and Co/ Boston, Patrick Donohoe, 1858]); The Emigrants of Ahadarra (1847); The Tithe Proctor, being a tale of Tithe Rebellion in Ireland ( London, Simms and McIntyre, 1849); Willy Reilly and his dear Colleen Bawn (London, The Independent, 1850); The Squanders of Castle Squander (London, Office of the Illustrated London Library, 1852); Barneys Goose, The Hedge School, The Three Ta (Dublin, James Duffy & Co, 1874); Tubber Derg, or The Red Well (James Duffy & Co n.d.g/New York, D.&J. Sadlier & Co n.d.g); Parra Sastha or the History of Paddy Go-easy and His Wife Nancy (James Duffy - originally 1845, reprinted Duffy's Library of Ireland, 1853); Willy Reilly and his Dear Coleen Bawn (Dublin, James Duffy & Co.,1855/Chicago and New York, Belford, Clarke & Co. 1885); Alley Sheridan and Other Stories (1857); The Evil Eye or the Black Spectre (1860); The Double Prophecy, or, Tales of the Heart (1862); The Silver Acre and Other Tales (1862); The Fair of Emyvale (1870); The Emigrants [of Adaharra]: A Tale of Irish Life (London, George Routledge & Sons n.d. circa 1880); Redmond Count O'Hanlon, the Irish Rapparee (Dublin, James Duffy, 1886); The Old Infant and Similar Stories (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1896). His Collected works were published by George Routledge & Co., London, circa 1854; and by P.F. Collier, New York, circa 1882; and The Red-Haired Man's Wife (1889).
20th century editions of his work include William Carleton, Volumes I, II & III, issued by P.F. Collier & Son, of New York; and a number of individual titles by the Mercier Press, Cork & Dublin. Feardoracha the Miser was translated into Irish as Feardorcha Truailldhe; and The Black Prophet, as An Faidh Dubh, both by Sean Mac Maolain (Dublin, Stationary Office, 1933, and 1940).
In 1848 a pension of £200 a year was granted by Lord John Russell in response to a petition by distinguished supporters. Shortly before he died he completed the first half of his autobiography, which forms volume one of The Life of William Carleton, by David James O'Donoghue (London, Downey and Co., 2 volumes, 1896). Among the works on Carleton is Poor Scholar: A Study of William Carleton, by Benedict Kiely (Dublin, The Talbot Press, 1942 [Re-issued Dublin, Wolfhound Press, 1997]). The Courtship of Phelim O'Toole, Stories by William Carleton (London, New English Library, 1962), was edited by Anthony Cronin.
William Carleton died on the 30th of January 1869, and is buried in Mount Jerome, Dublin.
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