I thought I knew quite a lot about Dean Swift. I have even read Gulliver’s Travels. In all the stuff about satire, and St Patrick’s Cathedral and so on, I have never been aware of any connection between the great man of letters and the city of my birth. Yet this week in Belfast I have twice heard the same story about Jonathan Swift and his inspiration for Gulliver. Can it possibly be true?
The website for the wash-out Land of Giants referenced Gulliver’s creator as part of the history of Northern Ireland. (Allegedly, there was mention of Swift in the outdoor extravaganza, although I certainly failed to spot it.) I was pretty sure the show’s writer was mistaken until the following day when the tour guide on our Titanic boat tour told the same story: he said Swift had been visiting Lilliput street in North Belfast and had been looking out over Cave Hill where the rock formation is known as Napoleon’s nose–it looks like the supine silhouette of the French emperor. The rock, said the tour guide, gave Dean Swift the inspiration for his giant and he gave his little people the name of the street–they are the Lilliputians.
I am familiar with Lilliput street and the Lilliput laundry is well-known in Belfast. I always assumed that the street took its name from the book and not the other way about. How come no one ever put me right before? And really, would Lilliput street have existed at the time that Swift was writing?
My childhood home looked out over Cave Hill and we knew well the story of Napoleon’s nose. How come no one ever mentioned Swift’s giant?
A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that Swift was a Church of Ireland priest in Carrickfergus before he went on to bigger things in Dublin but it makes no mention of Belfast and the supposedly inspirational role of a modest street and a mighty rock.
This island is stuffed with Swift scholars so somebody must know whether or not this is an urban myth. Over to you…