Dean Swift, Napoleon’s nose and Lilliput Street: Are they by any chance related?

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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

About Liz Barron

US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger,cook, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveler.
This entry was posted in Culture with the Crone, great ideas for books, Tales of a Belfast girlhood and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dean Swift, Napoleon’s nose and Lilliput Street: Are they by any chance related?

  1. Dr Raymond O'Regan Lecturer in Irish History says:

    In the late 1690s Jonathan Swift was a Prebendry Minister at Kilroot ,just outside Carrickfergus .He would visit Belfast to see his girlfriend Jayne Waring who appropriately enough lived in Waring Street..As with all his lady friends he would refer to her as “Varina”. and on his way into Belfast along the Belfast shoreline he observed the outline of the Cavehill which resembles a Giant lying sleeping which when he was Dean of St.Patricks Cathederal in Dublin inspired him to write his famous Gullivers Travels.Also on his journey into Belfast he would have passed Liliput Farm.

  2. You are right to be suspicious. I don’t know what credentials Dr Ray has but Lilliput Farm gave its name to the street and the farm is only recorded generations after the publication of the book. Also all books on Swift point out his indebtedness to Rabelais with his giants Gargantua and Pantagruel. The story about Swift and Cave Hill seems to date back to about 2004. Have you got any evidence that its older, Dr O’Regan?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s