Oscar Wilde Festival returns for second year

Galway’s Oscar Wilde Festival returns for its second year on the weekend of September 5 to 7, the festival will provide a host of insights into Wilde’s life and work with speakers from Galway, the UK, and the US as well as supporting new Irish writing inspired by Wilde.

“With the first year being successful, a lot of people wanted to be involved this year,” festival director Sandra Coffey tells me. “The links with the west of Ireland have also got a lot of people interested in coming over and checking the festival out. Michael Feeney, the deputy chair of the Oscar Wilde Society in London is coming over for the weekend and he will give an opening talk at the launch night. It’s one of the oldest Wilde societies in the world and it’s nice that he will be with us.”

The festival kicks off on Friday September 5 at 6pm in the Harbour Hotel. The launch will be followed by a talk by Mary J Murphy on the remarkable life of Galway woman Eva O’Flaherty, who referred to Wilde as her ‘cousin Oscar’. “I’m really looking forward to hearing Mary talk about Eva O’Flaherty,” Coffey declares. “Mary is a former journalist and broadcaster whose book, Eva O’Flaherty: Forgotten Island Heroine, came out last year. Eva was a milliner and fashion designer and was also involved in intellectual pursuits and art. She was well known in London, Paris and Dublin and had strong connections with Galway, she is buried in Caherlistrane. She knew Oscar’s mother, Speranza, and the two of them were very interested and active in nationalism.

“Eva always referred to Oscar as her cousin and Mary will go into the details of the family tree and the exact links between them so it should be fascinating. Eva knew Oscar in London and they would both have been part of the literary scene there.”

Also partaking in that event is Eva’s great-granddaughter Vivian Nesbitt, an award-winning American actress who has appeared in Breaking Bad.

On Saturday September 6, the festival moves to An Taibhdhearc. The day’s events will begin at 12 noon with a talk on Wilde Today. What do we think of Wilde today and how has his reputation stood the test of time? This will be the question posed to three speakers; Dr David Clare from NUI Galway, John Cooper from New York, owner of Oscar Wilde in America website, and Patricia Leventon, acclaimed actress from the UK.

“I’m delighted we’ll be in An Taibhdhearc given its Wilde connection through actor Micheal MacLiammoir,” Coffey enthuses. “James Harrold will outline the connections Wilde has with the theatre and An Taibhdhearc’s importance in the Irish theatre world and then the talk will feature various opinions and insights on how Wilde’s reputation survives. There is not a lot of his work touring in Ireland for instance and we look at things like Wilde’s reputation in America via John’s expertise, while Patricia can talk about his standing in the UK, and David Clare will discuss the Galway and overall Irish angles. Audience members are invited to ask questions and share their own opinions afterwards as well.”

At 4pm John Cooper will deliver a talk about Wilde and Dress. “Two years ago John re-discovered an essay Wilde had written called ‘The Philosophy of Dress’,” Coffey reveals. “The essay wasn’t widely known but expresses a lot of Wilde’s opinions on dress. Women’s dress at the time wasn’t very healthy for them and Wilde had a lot of opinions on that. These days we’re so used to seeing celebrities on the red carpet in all kinds of dress and Oscar would have been among the first to realise the power of good dress sense. The essay and John’s lecture go into the fashion trends of Wilde’s day and how he dressed to great effect and how his sense of dress evolved. It will be an illustrated talk and will connect fashion sense of Oscar’s time with that of our own.”

Saturday’s events conclude with a show about one of the most important women in Wilde’s life – his mother. At 8pm, Patricia Leventon will perform her much acclaimed show Lady Wilde.

On Sunday September 7 the festival wraps up with the premiere of Kicking Oscar’s Corpse by Galway writer Brendan Murphy at the Harbour Hotel at 1pm. Based on actual court transcripts, Kicking Oscar's Corpse is a docu-play based on the famous libel trial of dancer Maud Allan in 1918. It is a story of judges and prejudice, MPs and dancing girls, sex, scandal, and conspiracy. “Maud Allan was a very colourful woman,” Coffey states. “Kicking Oscar’s Corpse is based on a court case which she brought in 1918 against an MP who objected to her Salome show and accused her of being a German agent.

“One fact that really interested me about the trial was that Lord Alfred Douglas testified against Maud Allan, so it’s fascinating to see him, 18 years after Wilde’s death, turn up in this trial. Brendan’s put a lot of work into it and it will be a fascinating show. Supporting new Irish writing inspired by Wilde was one of the things I wanted to do, so when Brendan approached me I was very interested.”

For further information on events and how to get tickets, go to the festival website www.oscarwildefestival.com

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