The statue of a Prince asks a swallow in Oscar Wilde’s story The Happy Prince to donate his gold leaf and diamonds to the impoverished inhabitants of his town. Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, where Wilde attended school, has installed over 100 gold-leaf carved swallows around the town to commemorate one of its most renowned literary residents.
Wilde boarded at Portora Royal School, which is now Enniskillen Royal Grammar School, from 1864 to 1871. Wilde’s view from his dormitory window at the school, from which he could see the statue of General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole on Cole’s Monument in Forthill Park at the top of the town, is believed to have inspired The Happy Prince.
From the butcher’s store to the jeweller, the optician to the florist, Arts Over Borders’ new literary tourism initiative has installed 150 gold-leaf carved swallows high on 86 buildings throughout Enniskillen. The swallows congregate in the town’s center square, near a new mural of Jordan Shaw’s The Happy Prince, but they also follow a route from the War Memorial at the base of the statue through the town to Portora Castle.
Some of the swallows are placed in locations that allude to Wilde’s own life story, such as one at a cell window in the town’s 19th-century jail to commemorate the two years Wilde spent in Reading jail for “acts of gross indecency” in 1895, and another near the Victoria Cross memorial to honor Wilde’s eldest son, Cyril, who was killed in action during WWI.
Another notable literary resident of Enniskillen is Samuel Beckett, who boarded at Portora between the ages of 14 and 17 and excelled in sports. Beckett would row to Devenish Island on the waters of Lower Lough Erne every morning at 6 a.m., according to Arts Over Borders.
With 64 black and white chess board squares at 64 different indoor places throughout Enniskillen, Beckett’s love with the game of chess is being commemorated. It occurs in his plays Endgame and Play, as well as the book Murphy.
On Saturday, in honor of Wilde’s birthday, 32 bronze chess pieces carved by artist Alan Milligan will be transported throughout town by volunteers in a coordinated sequence, inspired by Beckett’s TV play Quad.
Seán Doran and Liam Browne came up with the idea of transforming Enniskillen into a long-term living art museum to commemorate Wilde and Beckett’s 150th and 100th years in the town, respectively. Enniskillen’s literary ties, according to Doran, had been “rather downplayed” prior to the annual Beckett and Wilde festivals, which have been held since 2012.
“Wilde’s years in Enniskillen were the longest he spent anywhere outside of his birthplace in Dublin and his married years in London, yet his name was only on the Gold Medal Honours Board in the Great Hall of Portora Royal School for years.” “The watery landscape of Fermanagh, its still waters, and the political upheaval at a time when the Irish border was being established 100 years ago all entered Samuel Beckett’s imagination and, some say, found its way into his later works,” Doran said.
“While the intention was for these two installations to be temporary, the overwhelming response from the people of Enniskillen suggests that they will be here for a long time.” Outside of Ireland, the word Enniskillen conjures up images of sorrow and the Troubles. Arts Over Borders is attempting to alter that.”
The European Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, and Enniskillen Bi have all contributed to the initiatives.