Many people are unaware that long before the name of Oscar Wilde made newspaper headlines for scandal, his father, William Robert Wills Wilde had suffered a similar ordeal.
William, born in 1815 near Castlerea, County Roscommon, was a complex and colourful character who studied medicine in Dublin, London and Vienna and went on to become one of the most prominent surgeons of his day, a pioneer in the field of eye and ear surgery (his book on diseases of the ear was still in use well into the 20th century).
A man of well-rounded intellect and a seemingly indefatigable capacity for work, he was also a keen historian, naturalist and archivist. His many achievements included such diversities as: an analysis of the census of Ireland during the infamous potato famine; a vast catalogue of the antiquities held by the Dublin Institute; a much admired history of the Boyne and Blackwater area and much else.
William's medical practice was in Dublin and he and his eccentric wife Speranza became well-known members of Dublin society -- she as a famous poet whose stirring Nationalist verses were penned in support of the Young Ireland movement, he as a doctor ... but also as a womaniser and father of numerous illegitimate children in the Dublin area.
In recognition of his medical achievements William received a knighthood at the age of 49 and was appointed Surgeon Oculist to Queen Victoria, much to the annoyance of some of his medical colleagues who were jealous of his success.
Just as it seemed he had the whole world at his feet, his life was rocked by a scandal in which his wife was taken to court by a young woman who claimed that William had made her pregnant. The case attracted enormous media attention at the time and William’s reputation was severely damaged, so much so that he more-or-less retired from public life thereafter.
It's curious indeed that his famous son was to experience a similar fall from grace some years later.
William's colourful story is told in full for the first time in this well-researched and entertaining book by David Stevens FRCS, himself a former ear, nose & throat specialist and a long-standing admirer of William Wilde's pioneering work in this field of medicine.