Today marks the 161st birthday of Irish playwright, novelist, witticist, and true green carnation, Oscar Wilde. Last year, we were lucky enough to trace Oscar Wilde’s steps as a young man in Ireland from his birth, boarding school, and university life to his long-lasting legacy as one of Ireland’s most famous sons.
By Joseph Pedro
It’s with a reflective heart that I stand in the corner of Oscar Wilde’s childhood home of 1 Merrion Square. Located on the most fashionable side of Dublin, an area once envied for its location near the Duke of Leinster’s residence. The gracious Georgian townhouse now feels like an empty shell of how I had pictured it before stepping through the front door. After 23 years of being left in disrepair, the American College Dublin worked to completely renovate the property, and, while much credit is due, the College stopped providing tours after a few short years. Now, the building has been completely taken over as a sterile campus. But I am lucky still, as Oscar Wilde Tours provides us access to explore the building, a privilege that few, even the Oscar Wilde Society, enjoy.
I am greeted by one of the few portraits known of Oscar Wilde’s mother, Lady Jane Wilde, the famous nationalist, essayist, and poet, and then by a stunning stained-glass window that represents The Happy Prince. I marvel at how perfectly the arched window represents the themes of the short story—the deep class divides of Victorian times and the visceral struggle of the Irish famine, all done in a Gaudí-meets-Jill Thompson fashion. The sun shines through the blue glass, illuminating snowy dust particles flowing toward a staircase that leads to the second floor. I walk up slowly, picturing a young Oscar Wilde jetting up the stairs just home from school, and I trace my finger along the Georgian-yellow wall. A woman from the college is following closely behind making sure we’re out by the time she has a conference call. “We don’t normally do tours,” she repeats excessively. She bookends each detail she points out with the same phrase: “We’re a private institution.” Ignoring her warnings that we can’t spend too much time, I sit in the corner of Lady Jane Wilde’s parlor. It was in this room that Lady Wilde held her famous gatherings, where the greatest literary and political minds converged in Ireland. It’s here, in this very corner, in which a young Oscar Wilde would have sat quietly and listened to the goings-on of the time, and very likely where Oscar picked up his knack for dialogue, wit, and the powerful sense of observation that he carried with him until the day he died.