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April 15, 2008

Town faces monstrous fate, all in the name of progress

Of all the travesties perpetrated in the name of progress in Ireland, this surely has to be the grimmest A fate is being proposed for the pleasant little town of Celbridge which is so monstrous, so implausible, so fatuous, that it could almost come from one of Swift’s ghastly, satirical fictions about human conduct. But this is not satire, nor is it fiction, though Swift would recognise it as a towering example of utterly Brobdingnagian folly. Celbridge lies along just one side of the Liffey, and its spine, parallel to the river, is a predominantly Georgian main street: and appropriately so. Jonathan Swift would often journey to Celbridge, to calm the passionate yearnings of his inamorata, Vanessa, at one end of this main street. At around the same time, at the far end of the same street, Speaker Conolly was erecting what is now the greatest surviving Palladian mansion in Ireland, Castletown: and roughly midway between Vanessa’s home and the entrance to Speaker Conolly’s great house, Arthur Guinness was later to start his first brewery. Now, there are very few Irish exports that are known around the world. The tale of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is one, and the name Lilliput exists in just about all languages. In this creation, Swift invented the literary form of the traveller arriving in a country which is so similar yet utterly different. Celbridge was never Swift’s home, but, as a regular visitor, it was where he first heard Irish spoken. Indeed, the concept of Lilliput might well have had its spiritual genesis in this modest Liffeyside town, where the contrasting worlds of Hiberno-English and Gaelic cultures met.

The Irish Independent

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