Jonathan Swift


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The Irish Identity

Robert Mahony

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Jonathan Swift was internationally acclaimed in his own time for Gulliver's Travels and other brilliant satires in verse and prose. In his native Ireland, however, he was most fervently admired as a patriot. Advocating economic self-sufficiency for Ireland and resistance to the high-handedness of the British government, Swift represented an articulate challenge to British rule. Although his reputation as an Irish patriot declined after his death, the twentieth century has come to recognize him as a founding father of Irish nationalism.

This book traces Swift's fluctuating reception in Ireland through the centuries, examining his nationalist ambivalence for a homeland he could defend but not love, and comparing his feelings with the ambiguities that have marked the development of Irish identity more widely. Robert Mahony considers Swift's posthumous reputation in both literary and popular culture and examines his unusual place in Irish political rhetoric. He shows how Swift's reputation suffered in the later eighteenth century through its seeming irrelevance to shifting political circumstances. In the early nineteenth century, Irish Protestants made him a symbol of their own patriotism within the British union, but he was ignored, or dismissed as a bigot, by most Catholic writers. In the 1840s the tide turned as the Young Ireland movement emphasized Swift's anti-British rhetoric while establishing his Protestant pedigree for contemporary Protestants. Although charges of hypocrisy and of an English cultural orientation survived as late as the 1930s, the construction of Swift as a patriot—with human flaws—was ultimately sustained.

Robert Mahony is director of the Center for Irish Studies at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

"Fascinating reading for anyone interested either in Swift or in the course of Irish history, as illuminated by the fluctuations in Swift's reputation over the centuries."—Conor Cruise O'Brien

"Mahony's timely and illuminating study . . . documents the extraordinary and contradictory influence this "Hibernian patriot' has exercised on constructions of Irish identity."—Joe McMinn, Irish Times

"Professor Mahony has done a splendid job of deconstructing Irish historiography to show how the Dean was appropriated to support and bolster the different schools of nationalism."—Bill Maxwell, Irish Independent

"Timely and illuminating. . . . Mahony's book is a fitting tribute to this extraordinary man."—Malcolm Rogers, Irish World

"Robert Mahony's substantial and well-informed scholarly study, demonstrates in intricate detail how Swift's ambivalent feelings about Ireland were reciprocated in the two and a half centuries since his death."—Norman Vance, Times Literary Supplement

"Mahony's books is a fitting tribute to this extraordinary man."—Malcolm Rogers, Irish World

ISBN: 9780300188394
Publication Date: January 17, 1996
222 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4