George Sigerson was a physician, scientist, writer, politician and poet. He was a leading light in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th century in Ireland.
Sigerson was born at Holyhill just outside Strabane, Co Tyrone, the son of William and Nancy (née Neilson) Sigerson. He had three brothers James, John and William, and three sisters, Ellen, Jane and Mary Ann.
George Sigerson was educated at the local Glebe school, he then attended Letterkenny Academy but was sent by his father, William, who developed the spade mill and who played an active role in the development of Artigarvan, to complete his education at St Joseph’s College, Paris.
He studied medicine at the Queen’s College, Galway, and Queen’s College, Cork, and took his degree in 1859. He then went to Paris where he spent some time studying under Charcot and Duchenne at the Salpêtrière; a fellow-student was Sigmund Freud. He returned to Ireland and opened a practice in Dublin, specialising as a neurologist. He continued to visit France annually to study under Charcot. His patients included Maud Gonne, Austin Clarke and Nora Barnacle. He lectured on medicine at the Catholic University of Ireland. He was professor of zoology and later botany at the University College Dublin.
While a student he taught himself Irish and made the acquaintance of Charles Kickham and John O’Leary.
His first book, The Poets and Poetry of Munster, appeared in 1860. He was actively involved in political journalism for many years, writing for The Nation. Sigerson and his wife Hester were by now among the dominant figures of the Gaelic Revival. They frequently held Sunday evening salons at their Dublin home, No. 3 Clare St, to which artists and intellectuals alike attended, including John O’Leary, Douglas Hyde, W.B. Yeats, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Pádraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Sir Roger Casement and Thomas MacDonagh. Sigerson was a co-founder of the Feis Ceoil and President of the National Literary Society from 1893 until his death. His daughter, Dora, was a poet who was also involved in the Irish literary revival.
Nominated for a twelve-year term, to the first Seanad of the Irish Free State, Sigerson briefly served as the first chairman on 11–12 December 1922 before the election of Lord Glenavy. On 18 February 1925, the day after his death, the Seanad paid tribute to him.
The Sigerson Cup, the top division of third level Gaelic Football competition in Ireland is named in his honour. Sigerson donated the salary from his post at UCD so that a trophy could be purchased for the competition. In 2009, he was named in the Sunday Tribune’s list of the “125 Most Influential People In GAA History”. The cup was first presented in 1911, with the inaugural winners being UCD. The Strabane Sigersons Club proudly boast his name and their club grounds are known as Páirc Mhic Sioghair (Sigerson Park).
George Sigerson died at his home in 3 Clare Street, Dublin, on 17 February 1925, aged 89, after a short illness. He was predeceased by his wife, Hester (née Varian), whom he married at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough Street, Dublin, on 1 December 1861. She died in 1898. The couple had four children. One of these, William, predeceased both parents; two others (George Patrick and the poet and sculptor Dora Maria) would predecease their father. Only one of George and Hester Sigerson’s children, Anna Hester, outlived them both.
Featured Image | George Sigerson by Sir John Lavery