I gCill Chaoimhín sa Chaisleán Riabhach, Co. Ros Comáin, a rugadh an fear ioldánach seo. ‘Aural and opthalmic surgeon, archaeologist, ethnologist, antiquarian, biographer, statistician, naturalist, topographer, historian, folklorist’ atá ar an bplaic ar a theach i gCearnóg Mhuirfean, Baile Átha Cliath. Tá neart eolais ina thaobh in The Parents of Oscar Wilde, 1967 le Terence de Vere White agus in Victorian Doctor, 1942 ag T.G. Wilson agus gheofar cuntais ghairide iontaofa ag J.B. Lyons in Brief lives of Irish doctors 1600-1965, 1978 agus i bhfoclóirí beathaisnéise. Tá William ‘Robert’ sa phlaic sin, agus i gcuid de na cuntais, ach ‘Ralph’ atá ag White agus bhí an t-ainm sin coitianta i measc a shinsear. Tháinig muintir Wilde go hÉirinn san 18ú haois. Phós Thomas Wilde, dochtúir i mBaile Locha Riach, Emily Fynne arbh as ceantar Chonga dá muintir. Ba é William an duine ab óige de thriúr buachaillí agus beirt chailíní a bhí acu. Fuair sé oideachas sa Scoil Ríoga i mBeannchar, Uíbh Fhailí , agus sa Scoil Dheoiseach in Ail Finn . Cháiligh sé mar mháinlia in Ospidéal an Dr Mac Stiabhna, Baile Átha Cliath, in 1837. Phós sé Jane Francesca Elgee (‘Speranza’), duine d’fhilí The Nation. Rugadh beirt mhac dóibh, Oscar, dramadóir, agus William, agus iníon a cailleadh go hóg.

Rinne sé féin agus a bheathaisnéisithe rud mór dá chaidreamh ar Pháidín Breathnach, fear tíre a cailleadh in 1823. Déanann sé cur síos air in Irish Popular Superstitions, 1852 agus is dóigh gur uaidh a fuair sé an bá a bhí aige le gnáthmhuintir na tuaithe agus an spéis a bhí aige sna sean-nósanna. Deirtear gurbh é ab deireanach Chonga, an tAthair Prendergast (d’éag 1829), a d’adhain a spéis sa tseandálaíocht agus, más fíor, sa Ghaeilge. Ba iad muintir a mháthar a thug feirm do Phrendergast. Bhí Crois Chonga ina sheilbhsan agus Scrín Fhiacail Phádraig. Deir T. G. Wilson: ‘Although Wilde spoke Irish fluently from the days of his boyhood, he had no deep knowledge of the written language. In consequence, he often wrote Irish words phonetically or, as it would appear at times, in whatever way the spirit moved him.’ Agus deir sé arís: ‘Wilde who was a fluent Irish speaker mixed freely with his fellow-countrymen and delighted in the picturesque and somewhat turbulent life of the peasantry.’ Deirtear gur labhair sé i nGaeilge le muintir Árann le linn don Acadamh agus an British Association a bheith ann in 1857. Agus ag Wilson arís atá an abairt seo: ‘Wilde, a fluent Irish speaker, deplored the decay of the Gaelic tongue for in it “most of our romantic tales, ballads and bardic annals and the vestiges of Pagan rites were preserved”. These legends were the poetry of the people and he determined to record them while he could.’ Toradh ar an dúil seo sa bhéaloideas ba ea Irish Popular Superstitions,1852. Ach d’fhág Conchubhar Maguidhir (c.1861-1944) fianaise, atá i gcló ag White, nár thuig Wilde Gaeilge fiú. Théadh sé lena athair ar cuairt chuig Wilde i Maigh Tuireadh. Fuair Wilde amach go raibh Gaeilge ag an mbuachaill óg: ‘After that Sir William would always take me with him as interpreter with Irish speaking farmers when he was investigating old forts or any archaeological remains.’

In The Narrative of a Voyage to Madeira, Tenerife, and along the Shores of the Mediterranean, 1840 tá an abairt seo aige i ndiaidh dó eachtra áirithe a insint: ‘Never did I feel the pride of being an Englishman as strong as at that moment.’ Deir White nár náisiúnaí é: ‘Sir William subscribed to Butt’s Home Rule League, but that was really a movement to retain power by the Protestant ascendancy, even if it was by now a more enlightened ascendancy.’ Ach bhí cuimhne aige ar bhrúidiúlacht Dhonncha de Brún i Maigh Eo agus ar an gcaoi ar maraíodh mac Pháidín Breathnach a bhí sna Buachaillí Bána.

Toghadh ina bhall den Acadamh é in 1839. Tá léiriú in The Royal Irish Academy: a bicentennial history 1785-1985, 1985 in eagar at T. Ó Raifeartaigh, ar an bpáirt mhór a bhí aige in imeachtaí na hinstitiúide sin. I gcomhar le Petrie rinne sé staidéar ar an gcéad chrannóg dár aimsíodh, ag Loch Gabhar Mór i gContae ná Mí. ‘It was decided as a compliment to the younger man to be included in what turned out to be a most important archaeological find, but he made an impression on his elders and, when only amateurs were available, Wilde with his energy, capacity for observation and marvellous faculty for gathering and retaining knowledge, was probably a godsend to Petrie. The site was discovered through antiquities which a pedlar used to bring Petrie for sale, all gathered from a peat mound on the spot. They found in a drained lake an artifical mound entirely overgrown with peat at which turfcutters had been at work. Already one hundred and fifty cartloads of bones had been removed and sold as manure to Scotland’ (White). Chuir Wilde síos ar an obair sin sa chéad imleabhar de Royal Irish Academy Proceedings; san iris sin atá an chuid is mó dá aistí ársaíochta. Scríobh sé The Beauties of the Boyne and Blackwater, 1849 agus Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, 1867. Idir 1857 agus 1862 d’ullmhaigh sé catalóg de sheandachtaí an Acadaimh. Bhronn an tAcadamh bonn air in 1873. Thug Rí Oscar na Sualainne ardghradam dó. Ceapadh ina choimisinéir ar an daonáireamh é in 1841: ‘His report on the tables of death ran to 205 tables and 78 foolscap pages of closely-written letterpress, and included a remarkable 94-item classification of disease which equated standard English medical terms with their colloquial equivalents in both English and Gaelic, and with explanations of many Gaelic derivations.’ Rinne sé obair mhór ar dhaonáireamh na bliana 1851. Is i ngeall ar a ndearna sé den obair seo a bronnadh ridireacht air. Bhí sé gníomhach san fheachtas chun leac chuimhneacháin do na Ceithre Máistrí a thógáil. D’éag sé ar 19 Aibreán 1876.

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Diarmuid Breathnach

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