Jonathan Swift was born on 30th November 1667 at 7 Hoey’s Court, Dublin, son of Protestant Anglo-Irish parents. Upon his father’s death, his mother Abigail returned to England. The young Jonathan was left in the care of relatives and in 1673, aged six, he was sent to Kilkenny College and in 1682 he went to Trinity College. In 1689 he decided to try his luck in England and became secretary to the diplomat Sir William temple at Moor Park in Surrey. It was here that he met Esther Johnson who was to become his “Stella” in later life. After obtaining an MA at Oxford University, he returned to Ireland in 1694 and took Holy Orders, and then returned to Moor Park. Most of his first great work, “A Tale of a Tub” was composed between 1696 and 1699, and in 1697 wrote “The Battle of the Books”. These were both published anonymously in 1704. In 1699 Swift again returned to Ireland, this time as secretary to the Earl of Berkeley.
His first living in the Church of Ireland was the tiny parish of Kilroot in the Diocese of Connor, which he hated and in 1700 he became Vicar of Laracor in Co Meath which he loved all his life. This brought with it a canonry in St Patrick’s Cathedral, and he was sent to England to seek remission of the First Fruits tax on the clergy. He failed in this, but in London he met Esther van Homrigh- known as “Vanessa”, his other female admirer. In 1708 published his “Bickerstaff Papers” then fell out with the Whigs and became editor of a Tory newspaper, The Examiner.
Between 1710 and 1713 he wrote the famous series of letters to Esther Johnson published as “Journal to Stella”, and in the latter year was installed as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral. He was a founder member of the Scriblerus Club, whose members included some of the greatest writers of the age, Pope, Congreve, Gay and Arbuthnot. In 1720 he began work on “Gulliver’s Travels”, which when published in 1726 was to become one of the greatest novels in English literature. Stella died in 1728, and “A Modest Proposal” was published a year later. By 1735 his Menieres Disease was becoming more acute, causing dizziness and nausea and his memory was fading. In 1738 he gradually slipped into senility, by 1739 he had effectively ceased to be dean and in 1742 guardians were appointed to look after his affairs. He died on the 19th October 1745 and was buried in the Cathedral beside his beloved Stella. A brass on the floor at the West End of the nave marks his grave, and the black plaque above the Robing Room door contains his self-composed epitaph. The bust by Patrick Cunningham was executed for Swift’s publisher, George Faulkner and was presented to the Cathedral by Faulkner’s nephew.
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.