I love finding new things in Dublin. No matter how much I think I know about this city, there’s always something to discover. And I was blown away last week when I found out St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Kilmainham was once called Swift’s Hospital and had been built in 1745 at the bequest of Jonathan Swift using ‘..the little wealth he had, to build a house for fools and mad’. How I found out was by driving in the wrong entrance and seeing Swift’s name carved onto the back of the old hospital. By pure accident I had found an amazing record in granite of a historical and satirical colossus who’s last act was to better the lives of people he would never meet.
Now, it may not be as beautiful a discovery as the City Basin in Phibsboro, or the photographic portrait of Charlie Haughey in the Cobalt Café on North Great Georges St. (ask Eddie about it), or even Ennis Butchers in Rialto Village, but it surprised me, that after all these years there are a few things I haven’t seen. I mean, I was holding out looking in St. Michan’s basement at the mummified Crusaders just so I could have something to look at when I’m approaching mummification myself, but it seems there’s always something new.
There is an atmosphere of pure positivity in St. Pats. And that comes from the top down. Swift was the first guy to believe that people with Mental Health difficulties and Leprosy didn’t deserve to perish outside the city walls just because they didn’t pay tax. He was a modern person. He believed you create a great society by protecting and helping every member of it, no matter what the circumstance. The wards are named after people and things in his life. Stella. Vanessa. Temple. Dean. The restaurant is called Ridgeways. And it’s good – try it!!! Though if you have a weakness for Pork Chops and Chocolate Eclairs, as I do, you’re in BIG trouble.
The idea of brilliant, wealthy individuals using their money to do good work is not unique. Fast forward to the Guinness family. They built homes for their workers, a theatre, swimming pool, and did various good works around the city and country. Yes, they were loaded, but you can see evidence all over Dublin of how much they gave back. To a certain extent we’ve lost that. Sure, our current crop of billionaires love to do up stately piles and turn them into soulless Five-Star Hotels with the compulsory Golf Links, but when was the last time you saw one of them build a Library? In Kilkenny ‘City’ you can see the Carnegie Library, just one example of the many Andrew Carnegie built throughout Ireland, because he realised that education is key to success.
Our billionaires might give to many good causes anonymously, or Africa loudly, but I want to see their names on brilliant things that enhance the life of Dublin. I don’t care if it’s egotistical – ask any old person what they think of the aforementioned Haughey and they will show you their free Travel Card. They don’t care how corrupt Charlie was, they remember the ‘good works’ of Blessed Charlie. He knew that, shrewd as he was, and it might be something our politicians think about when they unleash their ‘neutral’ budget. We don’t care about the cronyism and the corruption. We’re used to it, we’re sick of it. But leave something good behind and all is forgiven, if not forgotten. It may seem old-fashioned, but Swift died in 1745, and to this day, he’s still the most progressive Dubliner of all.