George William Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh in 1867, the son of a farmer and later an employee in a drapery firm. He moved to Dublin with his family when his father was offered a job there. He was educated at Powers School, Rathmines School, and the Metropolitan School of Art, where he met and became friends with W B Yeats. When he was 17 his elder sister Mary died, which affected him deeply. She is fondly remembered in his poem A Memory.
He started work as a draper’s clerk but left to join the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, holding the post of assistant secretary for almost 20 years and from 1905-1923 acting as the editor of the Society’s journal, The Homestead. He got married in 1898 and had three sons, one of whom died in infancy.
In 1923 he became the editor of the Irish Statesman, the publication of the Irish Dominion League, which gave a balanced expression of views, both unionist and nationalist. Russell’s own sympathies were nationalist but he was not able to give free vent to them because of his position. The paper closed down in 1930, rendering him jobless and with an uncertain future, but a collection organised on his behalf raised £800, which enabled him to travel to the United States where his books sold well.
A E, as he styled himself, was a major figure in the Irish literary revival. He published his first volume of poems, Homeward: Songs by the Way in 1894 and a second volume, Collected Poems, in 1913. In addition to his poetry, which has a mystical quality reflecting his Theosophical beliefs, he wrote essays, literary criticism, and plays. He was also a competent artist, producing a few portraits, Irish landscapes, and mystical paintings. He died in 1935 in England and is buried in Dublin.