Oscar Wilde festival to be staged in Galway
By Trevor Conway
Considering the upcoming Oscar Wilde festival to be staged in Galway, two questions arise: (1) Why hasn’t such a festival been established already? (2) Does Wilde have legitimate connections with the west, or was he only comfortable in the luxury of his Merrion Square home, the stately houses of London and the streets of Paris? I can’t answer the first question. As regards the latter (though I don’t think a “connection” is essential to justify staging a festival), Wilde’s link to the west stretches beyond the statue groped by tourists on Galway’s Shop Street.
Wilde spent numerous summers as a child in Connemara and Cong, Co. Mayo. Even as a student in Oxford, he returned to the setting of his playful youth, where he hunted and fished the waters that ran near the Atlantic. Wilde’s reputation isn’t as healthy now as it might be. Sure, most of us are able to quote some of his wittiest one-liners, but his life seems to have overshadowed his work. I suppose that’s to be expected when you’ve lived one of the most tragic public lives ever to hit the news stands. Most of his poetry might rightly be considered overly ornate (with some exceptions), but Wilde’s drama, fiction, essays and children’s stories really are remarkable.
There are regular celebrations of Yeats, Joyce and plenty of other worthy Irish writers. Why not Wilde? Is there a certain snobbishness aroused by his liberal use of irony and humour? When I watch shows like Seinfeld, Frasier and Father Ted, I can’t help but think of Wilde’s sense of the trivial and the absurd. It’s there in those awkward situations and the outlandish choices made by characters such as George (Seinfeld), Frasier and Father Ted. Still, Wilde has so much more to offer than a few laughs.
The overlooked aspects of his work are addressed to some degree in the upcoming Oscar Wilde festival. Saturday 7th September sees the launch of the two-day event, followed by a talk on Wilde’s connections with the west, by poet and Wilde scholar Gerry Hanberry (admission free). The author’s most famous poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, is performed by talented storyteller Rab Fulton later that evening in the Town Hall Theatre studio. As part of the performance, props will be used to convey Wilde’s prison sentence. This includes a rope to reflect his experience of manual labour, where he was required to continuously pull on ropes, thus weakening and bloodying his hands to the point of being unable to write.
On Sunday 8th, at 2pm, Ireland’s perception of Wilde at the time of his humiliating downfall is explored by Eibhear Walshe, a lecturer of English at UCC. The festival wraps up with a flourish in the Harbour Hotel, by Galway’s docks, on Sunday at 7pm. This event incorporates a red carpet reception, a two-course dinner, free wine and a show titled “The Importance of Being Oscar”. This is suitably dramatic, and delves into Wilde’s life and work, with actor Michael Judd assuming the role of various characters influencing the life of – in my opinion – one of Ireland’s greatest writers.
The future for this festival appears promising. Its inaugural year has shown a level of depth, originality and intelligence in its planning, though subject to a limited budget, as all first-time festivals tend to be. Wilde deserves something greater in scale. Hopefully that will follow in future years through this festival. In any case, it’s great to see Wilde finally receive the recognition he has deserved for a long time.
- Saturday 7th September, 4pm (Busker Brownes, upstairs): Launch & Talk, “Wilde’s West of Ireland Connections”, by Gerry Hanberry (admission free).
- Saturday 7th September, 8.30pm (Town Hall Theatre studio): “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” performance, with Rab Fulton (5 euro).
- Sunday 8th September, 2pm (Busker Brownes, upstairs): Talk, “Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Ireland”, with Eibhear Walshe (free).
- Sunday 8th September, 7pm (Harbour Hotel): Dinner, wine and theatre, “The Importance of Being Oscar”, performed by Michael Judd (30 euro).
- Further details are available here: http://oscarwildefestival.weebly.com/index.html