Chance Your Arm (on this ‘Reverential’ Tour)!

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

~ Jonathan Swift


St. Patrick’s Cathedral sits right in the heart of Dublin’s South Inner City. A magnificent Norman structure, it’s distinctive gothic window panes and doorways over-watching the hustle and bustle of life on the edge of the Liberties. During the Deadly Darlin’ Walking Tour, this Promoter touched upon the beautiful gardens adjoining the cathedral, where the literary genius’ of Ireland are recognised along the Literary Path. On this walking tour, hosted by the very knowledgeable and meticulous, Mr. Ralph Smyth, we delved into the inner sanctum of the cathedral itself.

The cathedral is home to over 200 monuments, artefacts, emblems, flags representing the life span of the cathedral from its original foundations through to contemporary, modern life as we know it, today. Our tour touched upon but a fraction of the historical representations in place and yet, as will be mentioned, the breath of the information received takes some time to absorb.

Not only is the visitor to the cathedral provided with a historical experience, but also a reverential, spiritual journey. The air of inner peace, tranquillity and solace permeates through the inner chamber. These feelings were enhanced for this Promoter’s visit by the American Tapestry Chorus who were finishing their lunchtime renditions on this particular Tuesday.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The cathedral was built beside St. Patrick’s Well, as legend would have it. [From 450AD], it was told that St. Patrick (himself) stopped to baptise the local coverts from the water of the well. Until 1901, there was no (concrete!) evidence that this was the case, but at the turn of the last century, an excavation project along the cathedral grounds, unearthed six large stones. One in particular, bore detailed engravings and was actually found to cover an underlying well.

St. Patrick’s Well

This was the basis for the building of the catholic chapel in 780 AD and eventually expansion into a cathedral in 1220 AD. In 1536 AD, upon the dictates’ of Archbishop George Browne, St. Patrick’s was converted to a Protestant Cathedral. Removal of every crucifix from the inner chamber was believed to have occurred shortly after.

As one can imagine, there are many representations of St. Patrick himself throughout the cathedral, a beautifully detailed wood carving on the throne of the bishop, and a statue (no more than 1.5 feet high) depicting Ireland’s Patron Saint himself. The date of this work is unknown but it has withstood the tests of time elegantly.

The cathedral is the also resting place for many other distinguished souls. Archbishops, satirists, librarians were laid to rest within the cathedral walls. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, was born and bred in the locality of the Cathedral (Hoey Place) and eventually became Dean of the Cathedral upon his return to Ireland in 1713. Swift, was a powerful wordsmith and had a sharp tongue to complement his writings. His service homilies tended to be indulgent, so much so, they tended to become lullabies for the local parishioners. Our guide, Mr. Smyth provides a funny anecdote about what happened on one such incident when a sleeping parishioner was confronted by Dean Swift from his pulpit. As a result of his barb-like social commentary, Swift became an enemy of the establishment. So much so, he wrote his own epitaph, (in Latin, translated above!) which is exhibited on a plaque, hung proudly from the walls of the cathedral. In this particular section of the cathedral, dedicated to Swift, we found a first edition publication of his work: A sermon upon sleeping in Church and A Modest Proposal, a life-like representative sculpture of his facial features, a cast of his skull (which was macabrely exhumed 90 years after his death by Dr. William Wild the father of Oscar Wild in order to prove his hearing difficulties) and also the burial place of Swift and his lifelong friend Esther Johnson “Stella” as she was known.

Whilst on our tour with Mr. Ralph Smyth, we learned many other interesting anecdotes including how the phrase ‘to chance your arm’ was coined. This is a particular highlight of the tour as the background to the story is one of battle, compromise, trust and reconciliation. In a poignant memento to such understanding, a wooden door hangs resolutely, suspended in air like a magical, mythical entrance to another world. A photo image of this ‘hanging’ door is consciously omitted from this article. Sometimes, a digital, modern photo image cannot do justice to such an enchanting historical artefact.

Not far from the ‘hanging’ door, we visit upon the Tree of Remembrance, an interactive, contemporary inclusion into the cathedral [2014]. Visitors are allowed the opportunity to write a prayer, thoughts, commentary, anything they wish with the premise to remember the fallen souls in conflicts past or present. People are also given the opportunity to acknowledge inner battles within themselves, in order to gain a quantum of solace. You see, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is truly a spiritual place. The Tree of Remembrance is a beautiful gesture to humanity. Surrounding the Tree of Remembrance are flags (and emblems) representing the British imperialist campaigns, from centuries past. They hang quietly from their flagpoles, like spectres of great anguish, many depreciated, exposing their discoloured, transient ravaged and worn fabrics. However, one flag stands alone, representing the efforts of the allies of the RAF during WW2.

It is important to inform people that St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a functioning place of worship. Locals, patrons and visitors are encouraged to take time to pray in some of the dedicated praying areas including the wonderfully restored ‘Lady Chapel’ and even the original baptistery, which is just inside the main door. Protestant services are conducted on a daily basis.

The Guinness family, which are synonymous with the development of many of the buildings in the Liberties area of Dublin were also the patron family to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and they maintained the upkeep of the building for many years. There are also many representations to member of the Guinness Family, both inside and outside the walls of the cathedral.

Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness

The Ralph Smyth Walking Tour experience of St. Patricks Cathedral in Dublin’s South Inner City lasts just under an hour. The knowledge gained during the tour took a lot longer to absorb.

St. Patrick’s remains the structural pinnacle of the Liberties community. Inside, it’s a wonderful treasure trove of historical artefacts, grandiose arrogance (the Marquee of Buckingham), past and present (active) spirituality and also mischievous / macabre monuments (The Boyle Family Monument). There is a lot to take in and to assimilate. The best place to start this assimilation is at Two Pups Coffee Shop, not a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral itself.

Two Pups Coffee Shop

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‘Not all those who wander are lost’ – J.R.R. Tolkien