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Just who was Jonathan Swift, political satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels? A new biography by Leo Damrosch paints a vivid and most compelling picture of a multi-faceted and contradictory individual.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Leo Damrosch’s new biography of Jonathan Swift, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, is clearly an attempt to write the definitive work. The previous incumbent weighed in at 3000 pages, so its approach was clearly to overwhelm the reader with detail and sheer volume of material. Damrosch is more selective, and turns the copious material of Swift’s life (letters, diaries, account books, pamphlets — acknowledged and anonymous — books and more) into a vibrant and colorful life.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Yellow Steeple is all that remains of the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin, which once stood on the bank of the River Boyne opposite Trim Castle. Founded sometime in the 6th century AD, the story of the Abbey serves to illustrate just how crazy violent life in Ireland was in ancient times.

Awesome photo of the Yellow Steeple in the early morning (credit:

Awesome photo of the Yellow Steeple in the early morning.

In times of trouble, churches and abbeys were the refuge of last resort for the ordinary people, someplace where they trusted to the thick walls, stout doors, and the will of God when Vikings or rival tribes appeared on the horizon. However, the concept of sanctuary often didn’t account for much, especially when the barbarians didn’t believe in the same god. Every parish in the country has records of churches being burned with a couple of hundred people inside, and Trim is no different. The Boyne river is navigable from the coast as far inland as Trim, where a ford allowed easy crossings, and around which the town grew up. The Abbey of the Blessed Virgin was burned at least three times (that we know of) between 1108 and 1368, each time full of people. The Yellow Steeple is thought to have been built (along with the rest of the abbey) following the 1368 attack. Read the rest of this entry »