Tag Archives: william wilde

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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Royal College of Surgeons – A cut above

During the recent Heritage Week I took the opportunity of visiting ‘Surgeons’, a place that I, and many Dubliners, pass daily but never enter. The site was previously an abandoned Quaker graveyard, with the first College building erected in 1810. The beautiful Georgian building you see today is anextension of that and was finished in 1825.

William Dease

William Dease

The College dates back a little further to 11th February 1784 when it received its charter from George III, and it held its first meeting in the boardroom of the Rotunda Hospital on 2 March. Among those present on that auspicious day were the first president, Professor Samuel Croker-King, and William Dease, the first professor of surgery. It is important to note that admission was not barred on sectarian grounds, as was the custom of the time. In fact, Dease was one of a dozen Catholics to become president of the college. (Curious thing: Dease committed suicide and there are at least three different versions as to the circumstances, but nobody knows for sure. However, he cut his femoral artery, and his statue (in the Main Entrance) shows a dark line at exactly where the fatal cut may have been made!)

Sir William Wilde

Sir William Wilde

Over the years many of the college’s former students have made famous contributions to medicine, and beyond. William Wallace (1791-1837) studied dermatology in London under Thomas Bateman, and it was here that he learned about inoculation and vaccination. When he returned to Dublin he opened the first hospital in the British Isles to treat skin disease. Charles Cameron (1830-1921) was as the forefront of hygiene and public health, and was granted the Freedom of Dublin for his work. The McDonnells, father John (1796-1892) and son Robert (1828-1889) both made significant medical firsts. John is known as being the first person in Ireland to use ether as inhalation anaesthesia during the amputation of an arm in the Richmond Hospital on New Year’s Day 1847. And, on 20th April 1865 Robert preformed the first human blood transfusion in Ireland on a young girl in Dublin’s Jervis Street Infirmary. He was elected President of the College in 1877.
Sir William Wilde (father of the playwright Oscar), founded St Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, and it was later amalgamated with the National Eye hospital to form the well-known Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital. Oliver St John Gogarty, a surgeon renowned for his dexterity and speed, had a few more strings to his bow. He was a Free State Senator; wrote books, plays, poetry and is forever remembered as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan (a medical student!), the first character we meet in James Joyce’s Ulysses. His poem Tailteann Ode won a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympic Games. And there is a fine paining of him by one of Ireland’s greatest artists, Sir William Orpen, in the President’s Room.

Bullet hole

Bullet hole

During the Easter Rising the building on St Stephen’s Green was occupied by members of the Irish Citizen army, under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz. Gunfire from Crown forces based in the Shelbourne Hotel raked the building, and numerous marks can be seen on its front. One smashed into a door  in the Board Room and its mark is still there.   Volunteers stayed in place until the final order to surrender was given. A few, however, did leave a mark by carving their names into a pillar.

The College began a long period of expansion from the mid-1960s under the guidance of Harry O’Flanagan. The old Mercer Hospital was acquired and it houses a library, college archives, heritage collections and student accommodation. Other properties on York Street (opposite the College) have been acquired and are currently being re-developed. Beaumont Hospital is now the main centre for medical training, and advanced research work. And the international aspect has increased in recent years with schools in Bahrain and Malaysia. The college is recognised as a world centre of medical excellence, and there are over sixty countries represented in the current study body.

'Surgeons' - St Stephen's Green

‘Surgeons’ – St Stephen’s Green

* Sir William Wilde photo courtesy of RCSI

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