Monthly Archives: October 2014

Oscar Wilde – an original!

Plaque at 21 Westland Row

Plaque at 21 Westland Row

Of all the great writers born in Dublin, Oscar Wilde is one whose life and work really fascinates people. He was unique, brilliant and ultimately suffered the mightiest fall and died penniless when he was only 46.

He was born on 16th October 1854 at 21 Westland Row to Sir William Wilde  and his  wife Jane. William was one of the leading eye-and-ear surgeons of the day, and his free dispensary was the forerunner of the current Royal Eye and Ear Hospital.

A colourful character

A colourful character

Due to his outstanding work with the Irish Census of 1851 (the first, and very difficult, census that was carried out after the Great Famine of the mid-1840s), he received a knighthood in 1865. And with an increasing medical practice and improving financial position the family moved to a bigger house, a short distance away, at No. 1 Merrion Square. (Today, a colourful statue of Oscar looks at the house from the NW corner of Merrion Square – photo below.) Jane wrote poetry for The Nation under the style Speranza (Italian for ‘hope’) and was famed for her parties, where the young Oscar met the great and good, namely; the writer Sheridan La Fanu, the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton and the painter George Petrie, among others.

1 Merrion Square

1 Merrion Square

Me & Oscar in London

Me & Oscar in London

He went to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen and won a scholarship to study Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1874 he won another scholarship and went to Magdalen College, Oxford where in 1878 he achieved a double-first in Classics.

In 1891 he wrote his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which brought much notoriety to Wilde. In it the main character, Gray, makes a deal with the Devil to remain young while his picture ages. This desire, in po-faced Victorian times,  was considered perverse and scandalous. Modern readers take a lighter more informed view, and the story has been made into film on many occasions.  From 1892-1895 Wilde had a run of  unprecedented success with his plays Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, all playing to full houses. However, after losing a bitterly contested court case he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ and sentenced to two years of hard labour in Reading Gaol. He was so unsuited to this punishment that his health suffered terribly and it hastened his death three years after his release. He died in Paris on the 30th November 1900 and was buried in the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery. His tomb is the most visited and was created by the English sculptor Jacob Epstein in 1914. Always one for the witty remark Oscar is reported to have said when lying on his deathbed after being handed a glass of champagne ‘I am dying beyond my means’. Well said, Oscar!

Words engraved are from The Ballad of Reading GaolAnd alien tears will fill for him Pity's long-broken urn, For his mourners will be outcast men, And outcasts always mourn.

And alien tears will fill for him Pity’s long-broken urn, For his mourners will be outcast men, And outcasts always mourn (The Ballad of Reading Gaol)

 

 

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Tailors’ Hall – living history

It is over three hundred years old, the oldest surviving Guild Hall in Dublin, and like a patient brought back to life after a near fatal illness, the Tailors’ Hall is thriving and looking great. Since 1983 it has been home to An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland), who did a wonderful job in restoring the almost derelict property to its former glory. This work was recognised when it won a Europa Nostra Award in 1988.

Tailors' Hall - 'The Back Lane Parliament'

Tailors’ Hall – ‘The Back Lane Parliament’

The building was erected in 1706, and until 1841 was the headquarters and meeting place of the Guild of Merchant Tailors, when the guild system was abolished. Tradition had it that the Tailors’ Guild was the oldest one in operation, its first charter being granted by King John in 1207. There is no existing evidence for this, and the oldest charter on record was granted by King Henry V in Trim in 1418.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

Over the years the building has acted as a meeting place for other guilds, an army barracks, a court and a place for society balls. In 1792 the Catholic Committee, with Theobald Wolfe Tone acting as secretary, held meetings in the Great Hall.  Because of these meetings the place was referred to as the ‘Back Lane Parliament’. This group, which was comprised of local merchants like Oliver Bond and the wonderfully named Napper Tandy, had come together to seek relief from the Penal Laws which many people considered out of date and an obstacle to economic improvement. In 1798 a more strident group, the United Irishmen was setup by Tone, and they sought to use the turbulence of the  French Revolution as an opportunity to strike against England. Sadly, a number of things, including bad communications and treachery, went wrong and the rebellion was brutally crushed by the Crown Forces, with many volunteers being hung, drawn and quartered – a particularly brutal execution that was meant to scare onlookers as much as kill the accused.

The renovated building, which still has many original features, including the magnificent Great Hall, is a real Dublin gem that I was happy to finally visit.

Original stairs - over 300 years old

Original stairs – over 300 years old

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