Unreliable sources

Sep 21st, 2008 | By | Category: Ireland

My friend David Chillingworth writes on his blog of the past pupils of his old school, Portora Royal in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh including Henry Francis Lyte, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.  Being convinced that Wilde had shared an educational background, as well as a year of birth, with Edward Carson, the barrister who outwitted him in the trial of the Marquess of Queensberry, I searched through the pages of Wikipedia.  My memory had failed me, Carson had attended the same university, but not the same school.  All five of the aforementioned were students at Trinity College, Dublin: Oscar Wilde and David both reading classics.

Idly following links from Carson, I discovered the sequence of Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland.  “Where had they been to school?” I wondered.

Faulkner, I knew had attended Saint Columba’s College here in Dublin.  Wikipedia states, “He was the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to be educated on the island of Ireland”.

Where, then, had the others been educated?  Craigavon went to Edinburgh: Brookeborough went to Winchester; O’Neill and Chichester-Clark were Etonians.  Maybe the claim about Faulkner was correct.

Except right in the middle of the list, there is John Andrews, brother of Thomas Andrews of Titanic fame.  His Wikipedia entry says he was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, which is definitely on the island of Ireland!

Which claim is correct?  The suggestion that Faulkner was the first Northern Irish premier not to go to school in Britain, or the detail that John Andrews attended the school many people simply call “Inst”.  Given their specific nature, it would seem likely that Andrews’ details are the correct ones.

The meandering did raise questions in my mind about the status of online information.  Perhaps there were mistakes in the printed word, but the fact that books came with a price and that people paying the price would quickly challenge an unreliable writer, not least through the letter columns of newspapers, created some kind of quality control.  The writers of the Wikipedia entries have not even cross-checked what others have written; how much of it can be regarded as having any authority?

The only thing of which I can be certain is that David is a bishop.  I have seen his mitre.

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  1. I’ve read that wikipedia has no more errors than most standard printed encyclopedias, which is interesting if true, since it clearly does have errors.

  2. mm . . I don’t use it as a serious source and have heard that some things are just plain wrong but not sure . .back to the school records for you I guess!

  3. I think that, when I was at Portora, it was considered rather a ‘good thing’ that Wilde should have been an Old Boy. When my father was there – not so sure. When my [maternal] grandfather was there – different again. Indeed one gains the impression that his name was intermittently painted out and replaced on the Honour Boards in the Steele Hall. I suppose it all served as a good preparation for life in the Anglican Communion?

  4. I think Wilde might have enjoyed Wikipedia; he could have changed his entry as his mood took him.

    The ambivalence towards Wilde does have a distinctly Anglican feel – attitudes changing according to the prevailing mood. 😉

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