Jonathan Swift Archives - St. Stephen's University

Jonathan Swift and Thin Places

By | Alumni Abroad | 2 Comments

Today I fell in love. After a week in Dublin,  I have finally found an affection–for Jonathan Swift. I always knew I liked him based on a few satires that I had read, but I never knew exactly how remarkable he was. If he hadn’t been dead for nearly 300 years I would consider marriage.  Let me explain…

With a new perspective I decided to tackle Dublin on my own today and revel in the fact that I could do exactly what I wanted–no one to drag me down! I had things I wanted to see and do and it felt like a great privilege to be able to do them at exactly my own pace.  So after an Americano (I’m not sure I can ever go back to drip coffee), I headed out to walk what ended up feeling like a million miles around the city.  My first stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I had low expectations after I had already attend a choral evensong service at Dublin’s most famous cathedral, Christ Church. As it turns out this may have been my favorite stop. I’m not entirely sure why, as it was like going into any other Cathedral in Western Europe (epitaphs, busts, commemorations…and don’t forget the gift shop). It even took me a good 15 minutes before I realized that it wasn’t even a Catholic Cathedral at all, but rather the Church of Ireland (Anglican)–just like the famous Christ Church Cathedral.

When I entered I felt immediately at peace and remembered God and my deep reverence for Him—something I have not done in too long. I made my way to the little chapel at the front where I lit a candle and took a moment to just be. It felt good. Dublin is a busy city and I have been just that since I arrived.   My moment in St. Patrick’s may have been what SSU’s Dean of Arts, Dr. Gregg Finley, would call a “thin place”–a physical location where the heavens meet earth and foster genuine personal connection between man and God.  It was a brief moment, but enough to remind me why I am here.

I continued about the Cathedral until I came to the display on my dear Jonathan Swift, who was Dean there during the early 18th Century.  There I read about his life as, what I would call, an activist. He used his political and literary gifts to battle injustice in Ireland—from building a proper hospital for the mentally ill (who were often put on display before the public) and raising money for destitute elderly women, to single handedly preventing the English government from infecting Ireland with a debased currency which would have ruined the already fragile economy.  I know I want to read more about this man, more of his works, and hopefully squeeze him into my thesis somehow.  I think my point of infatuation came when I read a quote of his saying: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” (Thoughts on Various Subjects).  I am afraid not much has changed since.  In reflection i wonder if we have simple exchanged one conflict for another: Protestant vs Catholic; Muslim vs Christian; secular vs. sacred. Sadly, we have not learned from our past in this regard.

My moment at St. Patrick’s was short, but divine and has given me a lot to think about, especially in this country where religious conflict is so tightly wound into the fabric of its history and culture.

After my visit to St. Patrick’s I did carry on through the courtyards of Dublin Castle to onto the Chester Beatty Library.  This library houses some of the oldest written works existing today including their oldest piece, dated about 2700 BC, which, hilariously, is a very erotic love poem that is so explicit, the translation is not released to the general public– including the librarians themselves! But among the library’s collections they have some of the oldest known pieces of the gospels on papyrus, dated about 250 A.D.  It was a worthwhile visit, learning all sorts of things not only about Western manuscripts but also Middle Eastern and Eastern religions, as well as many secular books (Marie Antoinette’s personal collection).

When I first arrived in Dublin i was given advice from a taxi driver on the best sites to see in the city. I took this advice very seriously and after the library I moved on to what I was told was by far the best tourist attraction in Dublin—the Kilmainham Gaol. I was not disappointed. Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest prisons in Europe, playing a significant role in Irish political history. The tour was amazing and gives a great overview of the 1916 Rising and other rebellions leading up to Ireland’s independence from Britain.  The tour guide did an excellent job of adding a human component with the story of political prisoner Joseph Plummett, who married his sweat heart in the jail’s chapel just a day before he was executed for being a rebel leader. I’ll admit i choked back a tear or two as the guide told of how Grace Plummett waited all night only to hear the final execution shots ring out to tell her that her husband was dead. It is said the execution of these leaders was the key component in declaring Ireland a free state.  The tour also gave a great overview of the philosophy of criminal reform that was prevalent during the Victorian era in Western Europe, of which Kilmainham Gaol was a leader.

Although I am finished with Dublin for now, i will return in a few weeks to do more research and visit a few places that I missed (including the Guinness Storehouse). And in case you are worried, this is just a reflection on one of my days here. I have already viewed the Book of Kells (first stop!), Trinity College’s Old Library (a huge library of books only dated before 1850), the National Art Gallery (Jack Yeats and Henry Clark steal the show), and Christ Church Cathedral. However, for now, I am happy to leave the bustle of a very touristy city for some 5 star camping and personal guided tours around county Kilkenny.

With Love…