Today is the birthday of a famous Irishman and, lest I insult your knowledge, I should quickly add that I do not refer to this young chap above—Wildeans need no reminding that Oscar celebrates his birthday today, October 16th.
Consider instead a curiosity about this date in Irish lore.
Think of the struggle for Irish independence and one leading figure is sure too come to mind—Michael Collins.
Collins was also born on October 16th, 1890, in Sam’s Cross, County Cork. In the eponymous 1996 biographical film directed by Neil Jordan, Collins was played by Liam Neeson—who maintains the Wilde connection because in the 1990s, Neeson, also an Irishman, portrayed Wilde on stage in The Judas Kiss.
Collins was the youngest of eight children, and you might think it is stretching credulity to find another famous Irishman with a birthday today, who was also born youngest of eight children—but there is one.
The popular recording artist and pop singer Joe Dolan, arrived on October 16th, 1939 in the County Hospital in Mullingar, County Westmeath, the eighth child of parents who both died while Joe was young. Remember this poignancy next time you hear his song Make Me An Island.
Nor was Michael Collins the only political Collins to be born this day. Gerard “Gerry” Collins, the former Fianna Fáil politician and Cabinet Minister was born in Abbeyfeale, County Limerick in 1938, also on October 16th.
Closer to Wilde’s milieu, we have Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, Eugene O’Neill, also born on October 16th in 1888. Son of Irish immigrants, Wilde’s fellow playwright, O’Neill, like Wilde, suffered from bouts of depression and alcoholism later in his life. Curiously, they both died in late November in hotel rooms: Wilde in his bare rooms at the Hotel d’Alsace in Paris, and O’Neill in Room 401 of the Sheraton Hotel, Bay State Road, Boston.
So how did this October 16 tradition begin?
By some luck of the Irish, all of these men were no doubt fulfilling a convention instigated by John Hobart Caradoc, 2nd Baron Howden, the politician and soldier instrumental in the 1798 battle of Vinegar Hill, who was born in Oscar’s home city of Dublin, predictably, on October 16th, 1799.