Jonathan Swift, Dean 1713-1745 

 

Jonathan Swift was Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral from 1713 until his death in 1745. He was almost 78 years old when he died: a remarkable age for the time. He loved exercise, and this no doubt contributed to his longevity. The Cathedral today has the Pulpit from which he preached at Saint Patrick’s and a table he used to celebrate the Eucharist in his Church at Laracor near Trim in County Meath.

Swift was a man who fought hard against what he felt were unjust impositions on the Irish people, despite the fact that he would have preferred an appointment in England. Amongst his successful struggles for Ireland were his writings as M.B. Drapier which helped prevent a debased currency from being imposed by the government on the Irish people. For his contribution to this cause, he was presented with the freedom of the City of Dublin by Dublin Corporation.

The Cathedral also has early editions of his writings including ‘A sermon upon sleeping in Church’, two of his death masks and a cast of Swift’s skull. In his later years Swift was troubled by imbalance and noises in his ears, This, combined with a stroke in 1742, led many to declare him mad. Ninety years after he died, his body was exhumed and examined by Sir William Wilde, a prominent physician in the city, and also Oscar Wilde’s father. Sir William discovered that Swift had a loose bone in his inner ear, and that this ‘Ménière's disease’ was at the root of many of Swift’s problems.

It is ironic that Swift was thought mad, as he had left money in his will to found a hospital for treating those with mental illness, a hospital which still exists today just over a mile from here: Saint Patrick’s Hospital or “Dr Swift’s” as it was also known. Swift’s grave is marked by a simple brass plaque on the floor at the west end of the Cathedral (adjacent to his great friend in life, Stella). His epitaph is on the wall opposite his grave. Unusually Swift wrote the epitaph himself before he died and left instruction for it to be carved on black Kilkenny marble. It translates as:  

 Here lies the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity and Dean of this Cathedral,
Where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart;
Go traveller and imitate if you can, this dedicated and earnest champion of liberty
He died on the 19th October 1745, aged 78 years anno

Click on thumbnails below to see images of objects relating to Swift.

Copy of Swift's skull taken during examination

Swift's Death
mask on display in the Cathedral

 

Swift's pulpit used in the Cathedral

 

Bookcase containing some of Swift's work

 

Table used by Swift in a church in Laracor Co. Meath

Portrait of Swift hanging in the Deanery

 

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