Looking for a vacation infused queer history? Andrew Lear, a professor from Harvard, Columbia, and NYU launched Oscar Wilde Tours with the mission to connect gay travelers to their own history. The tour through Oscar Wilde’s Dublin, London and Paris kicks off October 24th, but we jumped onboard for a preview of the first leg of the tour to explore Dublin and Northern Ireland while tracing the roots of Wilde’s early life. Part of the angle of Oscar Wilde Tours is staying in not only historically relevant but ultra-posh digs throughout the tour including the The Fitzwilliam and Shelbourne hotels on St. Stephen’s Green.
Wilde checked into the Shelbourne while lecturing at the nearby Gaiety Theatre. Dublin adventures with Oscar Wilde Tours begins with an introduction to the world of Wilde by Eibhéar Walshe, author of Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality, and Modern Ireland and The Diary of Mary Travers. Walshe paints the ultimate picture of Wildean Dublin with insight into Oscar Wilde’s Dublin as well as unique information and stories about William Wilde and Speranza, his infamously scandalous parents.
The Dublin leg of the Oscar Wilde Tours also includes a sprawling walking tour with Joseph O’Gorman, chock full of local trivia and folklore. O’Gorman’s tour includes a walk through of Dublin Castle, a visit to Wilde’s old haunts at Trinity College, a behind-the-scenes look at the Book of Kells, and a trip to No. 1 Merrion Square, the childhood home of Wilde. Across the street in Merrion Square Gardens a statue of Oscar Wilde reclines on an enormous quartz boulder. Affectionately nicknamed the “the quare on the square” or “fag on the crag”, the colorful statue faces, the statue faces two bronze figures with quotes from Wilde’s most famous works.
One of the main points Lear would like to illustrate is that ultimately there is a lot more gay history and gay-related culture in the cities he takes his guests to on the Oscar Wilde Tours. Dublin might not seem like a gay destination but it boasts a number of significant events and happenings including the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, the largest international gay theater festival in the world. We had the unique opportunity to meet with Brian Merriman, the former director of the festival, and check out a production of My Dorian, a highly-anticipated show in their eleventh season. Just around the corner, the Gate Theatre was presenting a critically-acclaimed production of Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. At intermission I discovered the Gate Theatre was founded by Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir, an openly gay couple in 1928. While homosexuality was illegal in Dublin until 1993, Edwards and MacLiammóir were somewhat protected from major oppression and governmental disturbance because they ran a popular theatre together. Other Dublin highlights included the Merrion Hotel’s delicious “art tea”, which concludes with a pastry course inspired by the hotel’s impressive art collection, the Dublin City Gallery‘s Francis Bacon Studio, and late night rendezvous with locals, drag queens, and fellow travelers over pints upon pints at local watering holes like The George, The Dragon, and Pantibar.
One of the best aspects of Lear’s Oscar Wilde Tours is that every trip will never be the same. Our group’s focus was the history of Wilde and after spending a few days tracing his steps in Dublin we ventured up to to Northern Ireland to take in the landscape of Enniskillen. Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett both went to boarding school at Portora Royal (Ireland’s equivalent to Eton). Traces of Wilde can be found all over the school, from an honor roll plaque in the gymnasium to displays throughout the hallways. Portora is located on a hill about 100 miles northwest of Dublin with an amazing view of the town and a nearby ruined castle. Visitors to the area can spend the night at the luxurious 5-star Lough Erne Resort, home to the G8 summit in 2013 where executive chef Noel McMeel (“Best Chef” at the Irish Restaurant Awards 2011) serves up dishes even Wilde would approve of. A visit to the nearby Devenish Island is a must.
October’s Oscar Wilde Tour includes additional stops in London, Oxford, the Cotswolds, and Paris with special tours at the National Portrait Gallery, the village where Downton Abbey is filmed, a visit with English celebrities and glitterati, and a walk through the stunning Père Lachaise Cemetery (where Wilde is buried).
Photography by Jeffrey James Keyes