Lady Jane Wilde was a talented writer who used the pseudonym ‘Speranza’. A huge inspiration to her son, Oscar, legend has it she visited him in prison from beyond the grave, writes Sheelagh Mooney


As well acquainted as we are with the great genius that is Oscar Wilde, his poetry, plays and his witticisms, few of us know of the equally spirited Lady Jane Wilde, Oscars mother.

As the saying goes Oscar did not lick his talents off a stone. Jane Francesca Agnes was born in Wexford in 1821 to Charles and Sarah Elgee.

Her father, Charles, was a solicitor and died when she was just three years old. The family’s new straitened circumstances prevented her getting even a basic formal education. This, however, did not hold Jane back in the least. Largely self-taught she was a ferocious reader and a talented linguist; by the time she was eighteen she was conversant in ten languages.

Previously disinterested in politics, at the age of twenty-four on learning of the death of Thomas Davis, a fellow protestant and one of the main proponents of the 19th Century Irish nationalist movement, she began to read up on his philosophies and fell in love with this type of nationalism which was not based on religion or ethnicity.
Despite the fact that her family were strong unionists, she became involved in the nationalist movement.

After sending an impassioned letter to the paper The Nation under the name John Fansworth Ellis, she was offered a position as a writer by the editor Charles Gavan Duffy and soon began writing regularly for the paper under the pen name Speranza (meaning hope in Italian).

She published many heated articles and poems about the Famine and how ship loads of food were diverted away from Ireland as millions died here.

In one infamous opinion piece called ‘The Die is Cast’ she called for Ireland to join in the revolution that was sweeping across Europe after the overthrow of the French monarchy.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own