Saturday, 17 October 2015

Oscar Wilde’s childhood home
in Bray is being restored

The Strand Hotel in Bray was once the home of Oscar Wilde’s parents (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During my stroll along the promenade in Bray late yesterday afternoon [16 June 2015], I noticed that the Strand Hotel is being renovated and a sign outside advertises that this was once the home of Oscar Wilde.

It is not surprising that in the past Bray has been home to several acclaimed writers, artists and political figures, although it is better known today for Olympians like Katie Taylor and musicians like Sinead O’Connor.

The Strand Hotel is often overlooked because of its more distinguished looking neighbour, the Esplanade Hotel, built as an elegant Victorian Hotel on the site of the old Coastguard Station at the end of the Victorian era in 1897.

In the past, the Strand Hodel prided itself on the personal, friendly service, its “olde world” charm and its warm welcome.

But the hotel was originally built in the 1850s or the 1860s as a private family home and was first known as Elsinore when it was owned by Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, the wit, poet and playwright.

Sir William Wilde and his wife and Jane, the parents of Oscar Wilde, built a number of properties on Esplanade Terrace, between Victoria Avenue and Convent Avenue in 1863. Earlier on this site in 1835, workers unearthed what was believed to be a Roman burial site.

The Wildes built the properties as investments. The family is said to have rented Tower Cottage on the corner of Strand Road and Putland Road while their other properties were let out.

After his father died, Oscar Wilde inherited his properties in Bray. When he sold them in 1878 he ended up in court in Bray over some confusion. The estate agent accepted offers from two bidders, and the bidder who was later declared unsuccessful sued. Wilde won the case but was left with the court expenses.

The Esplanade Hotel … built at the end of the Victorian era (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

At the very end of the promenade, the Bray Head Hotel was built 1862, but it can hardly be said to be as well preserved as Bray’s other seafront hotels. But it has been popular as a location for many films and TV shows, including The Commitments, Breakfast on Pluto and Byzantium.

Other writers who have lived in Bray include James Plunkett Kelly, Lennox Robinson, James Joyce, who lived in Martello Terrace at the north end of the seafront, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived for a while in Rahan House on Killarney Road. During his time in Bray, Conan Doyle worked on gathering photographic evidence for his theory of psychic phenomenon. He also taught for a while in St Gerard’s and wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies (1922), that was a literary flop.

I must spend a little more time in Bray searching for the literary and artistic associations in Victorian and Edwardian terraces.

Meanwhile, a worker on the restoration project at the Strand Hotel told me late yesterday that many of the Victorian features of the former Wilde family home have been preserved and conserved, and the hotel is expected to reopen in the new year.

The Strand Hotel is expected to reopen in the new year after the present restoration project is completed (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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