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12 January 2006 Edition

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Remembering the Past - Jonathan Swift


On the 13 January 1713, the Famous Irish poet, pamphleteer, satirist and wit, Jonathan Swift became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Swift was born on 30 November 1667 in Dublin, the son of Protestant Anglo-Irish parents. His father, also Jonathan, died a few months before he was born, upon which his mother, Abigail, returned to England, leaving her son behind, in the care of relatives. In 1673 Swift began his education at Kilkenny Grammar School. Later he attended Trinity College, Dublin.

In the aftermath of the 1689 Jacobite rebellion in Ireland, Swift found shelter in England, under the auspices of Sir William Temple, a prominent diplomat and statesman. Swift served as his secretary for the next ten years, earned an MA at Oxford, was ordained into the Episcopalian Church of Ireland and tutored of Temple's young ward, Esther Johnson, who was to become known to the world as Stella.

After Temple died, Swift moved back to Ireland, working at various posts in the Church. In 1704, two satirical pieces, Tale of the Tub and Battle of the Books earned him some renown.

Although a lifelong supporter of the Whigs, the growing chasm between Whigs and the Church led Swift, in 1708, to launch a series of pamphlet attacks against them. By 1710, Swift had put his skills at the disposal of the Tories. He took over The Examiner, a Tory rag, and with a couple of 1711 pamphlets, helped turn to the tide of English public opinion against the Whig War of Spanish Succession.

With the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the Tories fell from favour and Swift returned to Ireland becoming Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, a position in which he served for the rest of his life.

In 1720 Swift roused himself from several years of political slumber with his Irish Manufacture essay attacking English economic policy towards Ireland and suggesting a boycott of English goods. The pamphlet was later declared seditious. His Swearer's Bank was his proposition for the setting up a bank to help small tradesmen in Ireland. A visceral series of 1724-'25 pamphlets, known as Drapier's Letters led to the downfall of Wood's half-pence, the Whig government's plan to make up for the shortfall of coinage in Ireland by minting copper coins. His 1727 and 1728 pieces on the state of Ireland explains how British economic policies kept Ireland underdeveloped and poor. This series culminated in the wickedly satirical A Modest Proposal (1729).

The essay satirically promotes the consumption of one-year-old children to eliminate the growing number of poor in Ireland. Swift uses savage irony to point out the inhumane condition of the colonised Irish. Part its effective equating of English devouring of innocent babies and wealthy absentee landowners devouring the Irish economy.

Swift's masterpiece of satire, Gulliver's Travels was published in 1726.

After the death of his beloved Stella, Swift's health decline and he died in 1745.

Advocating economic self-sufficiency for Ireland and resistance to the high-handedness of the British Government, Jonathon Swift represented an articulate criticism of British rule in Ireland. Swift is buried in St Patrick's Cathedral.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
  • This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
  • Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
  • Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.

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