Thomas Moore was born in Dublin, the eldest child of a grocery shop owner. He attended a number of Dublin Schools including Samuel Whyte’s English Grammar school where he learned to speak with an English accent. In 1795 he started at Trinity College, Dublin which had recently allowed Catholic entrants. In 1799 he moved to London to study law at Middle Temple and soon integrated into London society, making friends with some influential compatriots including the widow of the marquess of Donegal and enjoying the patronage of Lord Moira, an Anglo Irish politician and aristocrat who later became governor general of India. He had shown a strong interest in poetry and music from an early age and it would appear that his interest in his studies waned as he turned more and more to poetry.
Moore’s major poetic work was Irish Melodies which were published between 1807 and 1834 and include The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls, The Meeting of the Waters, Oft in the Stilly Night, the Minstrel Boy and his most famous, The Last Rose of Summer. In 1803 he was appointed registrar to the Admiralty in Bermuda but found the job uninspiring and delegated the role to a subordinate, John Goodrich, after three months, departing instead for a tour of North America. During this trip he wrote one of his most famous works, The Canadian Boat Song. He came back to England towards the end of 1804 and soon afterwards published Epistles, Odes and Other Poems. He wrote mockingly of America and his criticisms led to a duel with an editor which was interrupted by the authorities before it could take place.
In 1811 he married an actress, Elizabeth Dyke, the daughter of an East India Company official, initially withholding this from his parents because of her Protestant religion. They settled in North London and had a daughter who died in childhood. It was here that he wrote Lalla Rookh, an oriental romance in 1817. At around that time he received a serious financial blow when it was discovered that his deputy in Bermuda had embezzled the enormous sum of £6,000, for which Moore as the official in charge was liable. Rejecting offers of assistance with this debt from his friends, he was forced to leave England for a grand tour of the Continent (the alternative was a debtors’ prison) in company with Lord John Russell, a future prime minister. He lived in Paris until 1822 when his debt was paid off with the help of the Marquess of Lansdowne and an advance from his publisher. Two years later he was involved as one of the joint executors in the controversial burning of his friend Lord Byron’s memoirs, regarded by some as an act of gross literary vandalism.
In addition to his poems and ballads, Moore also wrote numerous articles for newspapers, novels, a history of Ireland, a biography of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and also collaborated in the writing of a comic opera, MP. In later life he lived with his wife in Bromham, Wiltshire, the recipient of a state pension, dying in 1852 at the age of 72, having witnessed the death of all his five children during his lifetime. Moore is often considered Ireland’s national bard and he is commemorated by a statue near Trinity College and busts in Central park, New York and County Wicklow. Moore was a strong advocate of Catholic emancipation and many of his poems are on Irish themes as well as others on love, wine, friendships and nature. Many of them have been set to music.