A new, international, multi-arts festival celebrating the life and times of Irish playwright, essayist and wit Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, A Wilde Weekend by Lough Ernest, is set to take place in Enniskillen and County Fermanagh over the May Day Bank holiday weekend, 1 – 4 May 2015.
A first of its kind in the world, the Festival is solely dedicated to celebrating Wilde through a full range of Wildean related art forms including prose and poetry, theatre, talks, music, film, literature, domestic and decorative arts and even garden tours.
Funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the new Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, events and performances take place in over 20 spectacular venues across the island town where Wilde spent his formative years as a pupil at Portora Royal School between 1864-1871. Festival venues include the Big Houses of Fermanagh – Castle Coole, Florence Court and Royal Portora School, the Masonic Hall, the Ardhowen Theatre by the lake, the Old Gaol located within the grounds of the South West College, Forthill Park (returned to its old name of Camomile Hill for the Festival) and The Clinton Centre. The fairytale aspect of the town will be animated with flowers, epigrams and shop window decorations.
The Festival also celebrates some of the best talent in Northern Ireland, with actors Adrian Dunbar, Ciaran McMenamin and Stanley Townsend, former Lyric Director David Grant, Paula McFertridge from Kabosh Theatre Company and Festival Associate sculptor Alan Milligan all taking part.
Oscar’s parents William and Jane Wilde decided to send Oscar to Portora Royal School, which in those days was considered to be the Eton of Ireland. Here he would excel at English and Literature. Wilde left Portora with a royal scholarship to read classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874,sharing rooms with his older brother Willie Wilde. Trinity, one of the leading classical schools, placed him with scholars such as R. Y. Tyrell, Arthur Palmer, Edward Dowden and his tutor, J. P. Mahaffy who inspired his interest in Greek literature. As a student Wilde worked with Mahaffy on the latter’s book Social Life in Greece. Wilde, despite later reservations, called Mahaffy “my first and best teacher” and “the scholar who showed me how to love Greek things”.
The University Philosophical Society also provided an education, discussing intellectual and artistic subjects such as Rossetti and Swinburne weekly. Wilde quickly became an established member – the members’ suggestion book for 1874 contains two pages of banter (sportingly) mocking Wilde’s emergent aestheticism. He presented a paper entitled “Aesthetic Morality”. At Trinity, Wilde established himself as an outstanding student: he came first in his class in his first year, won a scholarship by competitive examination in his second, and then, in his finals, won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the University’s highest academic award in Greek. He was encouraged to compete for a demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford – which he won easily, having already studied Greek for over nine years. And it was in Oxford that Oscar joined the Apollo Lodge and began his interest in Freemasonry.
For those interested in The Wilde Experience, there will be a talk in Enniskillen Masonic Hall at 2.00 PM today ( Saturday the 2nd May ) which will be given by Toby Carson, Owen D Edwards and Eibhear Walshe. Then tomorrow, at 12.00 Noon Robert Hewison will give a further talk in the Hall. We hope you will, if you can, go along and take part in these most interesting occasions.
Other highlights of the 4 day Festival include the gilding of Coles momument as The Happy Prince, a story inspired by Enniskillen and its reeded lakes. Oscar Wilde at Home, performed at Florence Court House, will see actors will perform extracts from Wilde’s most popular texts Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Ernest. NI’s Kabosh Theatre Company will be performing Ballad of Reading Gaol, at the Old Gaol in South West College, and Adrian Dunbar will be directing The Decay of Lying in the Morning Room at Castle Coole.
There will be a programme of Wilde Talks given by leading authors, thinkers and academics inspired by Wilde features. Booker Prize winner Alan Hollinghurst will be speaking on his personal library, its importance to him and the books that matter most. Eibhear Walshe, Owen Dudley Edwards and Toby Carson (grandson of the politician Edward Carson) talk about the trial of Oscar Wilde and the role of Edward Carson in this. There will be a specially commissioned lecture written by Will Self in which he responds to Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism, plus Franny Moyle: an illustrated talk on the life of Constance Wilde. There will also be a live video link-up with Ralph Steadman for a studio tour and a discussion on how he came to create the illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and other work.
For classical music enthusiasts the Festival has three fairytale concerts with top International singers – Marcus Farnsworth, winner of Wigmore Hall song competition; Katherine Broderick, a Kathleen Ferrier Award Winner; and a chamber ensemble led by Julius Drake. The last concert of the Festival is also one to look out for – The Strauss Four Last Songs in the Graaan Passionist Monastry; it was a Passionist priest who assisted Wilde in converting to Catholicism on his death bed in Pairs in 1900.
There is an excellent paper on the Masonic history of Oscar Wilde by Wor Bro Yasha Beresiner under the title Oscar Wilde – A University Mason, which can be accessed on the Pietre Stones Review of Freemasonry website, for anyone that wants to read a little more about Oscar and his involvement in Freemasonry.