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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Remembering Oscar Wilde at Ashford Castle

Oscar Wilde (extreme right) at Ashford Castle in 1878 aged 23

There are places in the Irish countryside where bird’s voices just rise above a humming silence before the early dawn, when I, as a child, became enchanted by their spell. Shimmering droplets of dew covered spider webs cloaking yellow sage that was everywhere, creating a beautiful bejewelled alien landscape. By mid-morning of that summer day, lambs played in the grass while their mothers looked on in lazy and contented boredom. A mare lounged nearby looking proud and magnificent as she lovingly nudged at her sleeping foal that was her very own creation; well, she did have a little help from a friend. These were sights, sounds, smells and feelings I could not write about unless I was there. A magical place to soothe any tired or aching heart. If I was in doubt, in the shadows behind me lay a cluster of trees on guard beside a pool so still it mirrored their image, that reflection broken now and again from the drops of water gently pulling away from their leaves. Ancient walls and hedgerows cast their mysteries around the ruins of an old castle in the distance, it’s battles and troubles long carried off into the wind tunnels of time. Chiseled stone was all that was left to hint of who might have lived there and a lasting fingerprint of their presence was walked now only by their ghosts. The Castle walls cast shadows over the riverbank that was once its life force, still serving up unwary salmon to men from nearby cottages who fish on their banks; cottages built more recently from that same chiselled stone carved by others a thousand years before. That morning has stayed with me all my life like no other, and here, at a different Castle, Ashford, I ask myself today what inspired the closing chapter of De Profundis by my favourite writer, wit and humanist, Oscar Wilde, and that could only have come from such a place as this.

Oscar Wilde’s father, William, had a holiday lodge near the Castle and Oscar spent many a vacation there. Then the Castle was owned by Lord Ardilaun, son of Benjamin Guinness, along with 20,000 acres of natural woodland, lakes and wildlife. As a boy and young man, Oscar must have felt at home within this great and vast Cathedral to nature, held secret court with its earth, and count among his inner circle here all that lived and breathed. He would always feel safe within its womb. When tragedy did come and his inner desolation was more than a state of mind, Oscar would always remember this place, for his De Profundis letter was more than an explanation to another; to us all it was a farewell to the world. It was in essence his epitaph and one of his finest moments of writing, and the least amount of words was spent to describe so eloquently and fully the healing power of nature at its conclusion:  

‘………..Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I might hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.’ 

Written by Oscar Wilde between Jan and March 1897  

Oscar Wilde
(Born Oct 1854-Died November 1900)

Barry Clifford