Karl O’Neill takes a trip to the English capital and visits the graves of three Irish artistic figures
At the end of August, I went for a short three-day break to London. I hadn’t been for almost ten years. I booked two concerts at the Proms and two other theatre shows. But I also planned on visiting one graveyard and two cemeteries.
I was on the search for three Irish literary or artistic figures – James Stephens, Lady Jane Wilde, and Molly Allgood. aka Maire O’Neill.
Armed with Ray Bateson’s wonderful book The End, and with a little online research, I made my way from my hotel in Paddington to my first graveyard.
James Stephens is a writer I’ve long admired. As I emerged from Wembley Park tube station, I noticed further up the street a pub called The Crock of Gold, clearly named after Stephens’ superb novel of that name.
I entered and had lunch there, but when I mentioned the author’s name to a very pleasant member of staff, she said she had never heard of him.
Stephens had lived for many years in nearby Kingsbury, and I passed his house on Queen’s Walk on my way to St Andrew’s Anglican Church and to the overgrown graveyard behind it. It took me a while, trusting in Ray Bateson’s directions, written twenty years ago, but I found the grave, covered in assorted greenery which I had to pull back just to read the faded inscription.
While sad to see the neglected grave, there was something fitting in the picturesque setting, as if I was ‘In the centre of the pine-wood called Coille Doraca’, as the opening of The Crock of Gold has it. James Stephens died on St Stephen’s Day, in 1950.
My next port of call was Kensal Green, a large cemetery containing the graves of many English literary figures. It being the Bank Holiday Monday, I could hear music from the nearby Notting Hill Carnival as I made my way to Lady Jane Wilde’s grave.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own