Oscar Wilde on St. Patrick’s Day 1882

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I came across a speech that Oscar Wilde gave on 17 March 1882. He was aged twenty-seven and on a lecture tour of North America. He participated in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that were organised in the city of St. Paul, Minnesota. Like Gerry, Oscar rarely veered into patriotism or politics. He gets close in this speech but keeps to the context of art.

Here is a review of his appearance at the event taken from Daily Globe (St. Paul):

It is a pleasure to me that I am afforded this opportunity during my visit to America to speak to an audience of my countrymen, a race once the most artistic in Europe.

There was a time before the time of Henry II, when Ireland stood at the front of all the nations of Europe in the arts, the sciences and general intellectuality. The few books saved from the general wreck are remarkable for their literary excellence and beauty of illustration.

There was a time, too, when Ireland was the university of Europe—when young Monks educated in Ireland went forth as educators to all other European countries, while at the same time students from these same countries flock to Ireland to study the arts, etc., under the great masters of Ireland.

Oscar Wilde on St. Patrick's Day 1882
Oscar Wilde on St. Patrick’s Day 1882

There was a time when Ireland led all other nations in working in gold. In those times no nation built so splendidly as did Ireland. The cathedrals, monasteries and other public edifices of those days showed a higher style of architecture than that of any other nation. Those proud monuments to the genius and intellectuality of Ireland do not exist today.

Art could not live under a tyrant

When the English came they were burned. But portions of these blackened, mouldering walls still remain to remind visitors of the beauty of the work wrought by Ireland for the pleasure and enjoyment of Ireland, in the days of her greatness.

But with the coming of the English, Art in Ireland came to an end, and it has had no existence for over 700 years. And he was glad it had not, for art could not live and flourish under a tyrant. Art was an expression of the liberty loving, beauty loving sentiment of a people.

But the artistic sentiment of Ireland was not dead in the hearts of her sons and daughters, though allowed no expression In their native country. It is that sentiment which has reduced you to meet here to-night to commemorate our patron saint. It finds expression in the love you bear for every little nook, every hill, every running brook of your native land. It is shown in the esteem you bear for the names of the great man whose deeds and works have shed such lustre upon Irish history.

And when Ireland gains her independence, its schools of art and other educational branches will be revived and Ireland will regain the proud position she once held among the nations of Europe.

Daily Globe (St. Paul) 1882

So be proud this St. Patrick’s Day. And express the love you have for: ‘every little nook, every hill, every running brook of your native land’.

One response to “Oscar Wilde on St. Patrick’s Day 1882”

  1. Sad day for Ireland when Henry II arrived influenced by encouragement from Pope Alexander, who saw the opportunity to establish papal authority over the Irish church

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