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Thursday 23 May 2019

State accused of Wilde 'vandalism'


IT IS Oscar Wilde's final resting place and the most visited grave in Paris.

But a glass barrier designed to protect the national monument in Pere Lachaise Cemetery from thousands of lipstick kisses and graffiti is itself now a "shambles," it has been claimed.

A €50,000 renovation and cleaning of the stone tomb and the site was carried out a year ago with the help of the Office of Public Works.

The renovation of the tomb, which was funded by the Irish Government after an approach from Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland, was partially covered by a glass screen to prevent further damage.

The playwright, poet and writer died penniless in Paris in 1900 and was buried a pauper.But through the sale of his works a plot was bought in the cemetery, guarded by a modernist angel which had its large genitals hacked off in an earlier incident.

The tomb had become a tourist attraction and kissing Oscar Wilde's tomb is part of the Parisian tourist trail.

But author Jim Yates, who was conducting a guided tour of the cemetery two weeks ago in connection with his novel Oh Pere Lachaise, says it was a "shock to see what the Irish State, through the Office of Public Works, had done to Wilde's resting place.

"I warned at the time it would end up a shambles and it sure has. However bad it got with the lipstick traces at least it wasn't vulgar and that is exactly what it is now -- a monument to a lack of artistic taste by the Irish State that unfortunately doesn't know the meaning of aesthetics.

"To them, its probably a contagious medication condition rather then the appreciation of beauty, art and taste. Beauty is unfortunately always lost on those who look but cannot see.

"I couldn't repeat the verbal reaction of my guests on the tour as we stood and looked at the result of State vandalism of an iconic site. If Oscar was able to comment I'd say he'd have some choice words to say about it too."

Mr Yates said visitors were unable to read Wilde's name through the barrier "even if they first get past the outer steel barrier surrounding it."

Lines from Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol can no longer be read, he said, "because of the filth of the barrier".

"And what of the cost of this foolishness -- who has paid for it -- the poor ordinary put-upon taxpayers of Ireland.

"Let Minister Brian Hayes publish the accounts of the entire expenditures of his Parisian adventure and see if he can justify the State's involvement in this anti-cultural assault."

Minister of State Hayes, who has special responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) and whose predecessor Dinny McGinley presided over the renovation of the tomb, said he had visited the cemetery but had not seen the work completed.

He said the intention was always that people who went on a pilgrimage to the tomb would still kiss the glass barrier.

"The planning authorities in Paris were keen to do something about the tomb and we were happy to help," he said.

"It was always the intention that people would still kiss the glass structure. You can remove it and have it cleaned. That is very much a matter for the graveyard management."

He said when the Government decided to help renovate the tomb and put up the glass barrier there were a lot of people who said they should not do it, but they had decided to go ahead.

"There is nothing to stop the authorities removing it and cleaning it," he said.

Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland, who lives in the south of France, said during the summer that the "glass screen now looks like the kind of dirty wine glass dear old Oscar may well have drunk from".

Mr Yates said the Irish Government should have spent the money on cleaning the tomb every year for the next 20 years.

Wilde, who shares the cemetery with Jim Morrisson of The Doors, Chopin and Proust, is still causing controversy over 100 years after his death.

Sunday Independent

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