Ledwidge was born at Slane in Ireland, into a large and poverty-stricken family. His parents believed in giving their children the best education they could manage, but Francis's father died when he was only five, and he was sent out to work at an early age, eventually finding employment in a copper mine. He had already begun to write poetry, and won the patronage of the writer, Lord Dunsany, who introduced him into literary circles.
After an unhappy love affair with the daughter of a wealthy family who scorned him, Ledwidge became a founder member of the nationalist Irish Volunteers. However, on the outbreak of war, he joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Dublin. In 1915 he saw action at Suvla Bay in Turkey. Having survived Gallipoli, he was dismayed by the news of the Easter Rising, and was court-martialled and demoted for overstaying his home leave. While out with a working party near Pilkem, he was killed by a stray shell and was buried there.