Enniskillen Pays Homage to Oscar Wilde with Flight of Gold-Leaf Swallows | Books

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In The Happy Prince, one of Oscar Wilde’s most popular stories, a statue of a prince begs a swallow to donate his gold leaf and jewelry to the poor in his town. Today, Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, where Wilde spent his school years, pays homage to one of its most famous literary inhabitants, with the installation of more than 100 swallows carved in gold leaf around the city.

Wilde lived in Enniskillen from 1864 to 1871, boarding at the Portora Royal School, which is now the Enniskillen Royal Grammar School. The Happy Prince was said to have been inspired by the sight of Wilde from the window of his school dormitory, from where he could see the statue of General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole on the Cole monument in Forthill Park at the top of the city.

Arts Over Borders’ new literary tourism project has mounted 150 gold leaf-carved swallows on 86 buildings around Enniskillen, from the butcher to the jeweler, from the optician to the florist. The swallows are concentrated around the central space of the city, next to a new mural of the Happy Prince by Jordan Shaw, but follow a path from the war memorial at the foot of the statue through the city to Portora castle.

Some of the swallows are placed in places reminiscent of Wilde’s life story, with one at the window of a cell in the town’s 19th century prison to mark Wilde’s two years in prison. Reading for “acts of gross indecency” in 1895., and another by the Victoria Cross Memorial in honor of Wilde’s eldest son, Cyril, who was killed in action during World War I.

The golden swallows ready to fly. Photography: Conor Lunny

Enniskillen also marks another famous literary inhabitant: Samuel Beckett embarked in Portora between the ages of 14 and 17, excelling in sports. Arts Over Borders said that at 6 a.m. every morning Beckett would row to Devenish Island on the waters of Lower Lough Erne.

Beckett’s fascination with the game of chess – it appears in his pieces Endgame and Play and the novel Murphy – is marked by 64 black and white chess squares in 64 separate interior locations across Enniskillen. Coinciding with Wilde’s birthday, on Saturday 32 chess pieces sculpted in bronze by artist Alan Milligan will be moved in a choreographed sequence through town by volunteers, inspired by Beckett’s television play Quad.

The plan to turn Enniskillen into a long-term living art gallery to celebrate Wilde and Beckett was envisioned by Seán Doran and Liam Browne, marking the 150th and 100th birthdays of the authors’ years in the city. Doran said Enniskillen’s literary ties had been “rather downplayed” ahead of the annual Beckett and Wilde festivals which have been held since 2012.

“Wilde’s Enniskillen years ended up being the longest time he lived outside of his birthplace in Dublin and years of marriage in London, but for years you could only find his name on the Gold Medal Honors Board in the Great Hall of Portora Royal School. In Beckett’s case, Fermanagh’s watery landscape, calm waters and political upheaval around the time the Irish border was established 100 years ago have all entered the imagination of Samuel Beckett and, some say , have found a place in his later works, ”says Doran.

“While the original intention was that these two installations be temporary, the immediate interest of the people of Enniskillen is such that it is likely that they will be there for some time to come. Outside of Ireland, Enniskillen’s name can normally cause thoughts of Tragedy and Unrest. The work of Arts Over Borders aims to change that.

The projects are funded by the European Northern Periphery and Arctic Program, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Enniskillen Bi.


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