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Speranza, Jane Wilde honoured with Merrion Square plaque

Dublin City Council will today honour famed poet and nationalist, Lady Jane Wilde, with a commemorative plaque at 1 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.

The literary figure, beloved mother to playwright Oscar Wilde, lived at the address for many years, and her weekly literary salons put her at the centre of Dublin’s cultural life.

Born in 1821, Jane Wilde was a keen linguist who translated works from German and French. Inspired by Thomas Davis, she became a nationalist, and from 1846 contributed to The Nation, writing under the pen name Speranza.

Among her poems in The Nation was ‘The Famine Year’, her response to the Great Hunger, in which she criticised her own Anglo-Irish landlord class in terms that left no doubt as to where she placed the responsibility for the loss of so many lives.

“A ghastly, spectral army, before the great God we’ll stand
And arraign ye as our murderers, the spoilers of our land.”

 

In 1848, her piece ‘Jacta Alea Est’ (‘The Die is Cast’), was seen by the British  authorities as so inflammatory that it led to the suppression of the Nation.

“O! for a hundred thousand muskets, glittering brightly in the light of Heaven, and the monumental barricades stretching across each of our noble streets made desolate by England…” she wrote.

“Is there one man that thinks that Ireland has not been sufficiently insulted, has not been sufficiently degraded in her honour and her rights, to justify her now in fiercely turning on her oppressor?”

The article was one of the grounds given for the arrest of Charles Gavan Duffy for sedition and the suppression of The Nation. When Duffy rightly denied having written the article, Wilde stood up in court and took credit for it.

She also championed women’s rights including property rights after marriage (where previously their husband had owned everything) and the right to a university education.

Proposed by the American College Dublin, the plaque joins existing ones which commemorate her husband, Sir William Wilde, and her son, Oscar. Also at the unveiling was the President of the American College Dublin, Dr Joseph Rooney, who flew over from Delaware for the event. Dr Rooney remarked, “The plaque honouring Lady Jane Wilde Speranza is long overdue and we are proud that it will be displayed in such a prestigious manner at One Merrion Square. Jane was a hero to the Irish people during the 1840s and an important part of the Young Ireland movement.

With her salons and other gatherings, Speranza created an open house within these walls for more than two decades and American College Dublin intends to continue this tradition.”

Dr Rooney concluded, “I think Jane would be delighted that the house is now a place of learning, and it is particularly poignant that it is possible to study creative writing and performing arts here in Speranza’s old home.”

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