Oscar’s mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, first gained attention in 1846 when she began writing revolutionary poems under the pseudonym “Speranza” for a weekly Irish newspaper, The Nation. In 1848, as the country’s famine worsened and the Year of Revolution took hold of Europe, the newspaper offices were raided and had to close. Jane, who was also a gifted linguist with working knowledge of the major European languages, went on to translate Wilhelm Meinhold’s gothic horror novel “Sidonia the Sorceress.” Oscar would later read the translation with relish, and draw on it for the darker elements of his own work.
Jane’s first child, William “Willie” Charles Kingsbury, was born on September 26, 1852 and her second, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie, on October 16, 1854. The daughter she had longed for, Isola Emily Francesca, was delivered on April 2, 1857. Ten years later, however, Emily died from a sudden fever. Oscar was profoundly affected by the loss of his sister, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.
Willie and Oscar attended the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen, where Oscar excelled at studying the classics, taking top prize his last two years, and also earning a second prize in drawing. In 1871, Oscar was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin. Again, he did particularly well in his classics courses, placing first in his examinations in 1872 and earning the highest honor the college could bestow on an undergraduate, a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, Oscar crowned his successes at Trinity with two final achievements. He won the college’s Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford.