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Jonathan Swift, Dean 1713 – 1745

May 26, 2016  Posted in: Cathedral History

Known to most as the author of “Gulliver’s Travels”, Jonathan Swift was also Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral from 1713 until his death in 1745.

He was obviously a gifted writer, but he was also a man who fought hard against social injustice and what he felt were unjust impositions on the Irish people, despite the fact that he would have preferred an appointment in England. He lived to be almost 78 years old, a remarkable age for the time, which historians have put down to his love of exercise and obsession with cleanliness.

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.

Jonathan Swift's grave

Today, the Cathedral holds many artefacts connected to Swift’s time in the Cathedral. These include the Pulpit from which he preached his (long!) sermons, and a table used by Swift to celebrate the Eucharist in his church at Laracor, near Trim in Co. Meath. 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.

Bust of Jonathan Swift

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 the Cathedral: 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. Written in Latin, 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

Swift Epitaph

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