Jonathan Swift, poet, satirist, and author of Gulliver’s Travels spent his time split between homes in London and Dublin. Cities in the 1700s were, to be quite frank, pretty disgusting places.
Public hangings, the bodies left to rot on the gallows, rubbish piled up everywhere, the contents of your toilet and your neighbours, taken away by open cart. Butchers slaughtering livestock at the market, letting the blood and waste flow onto the public paths and roads.
So it was no wonder that Jonathan Swift accepted the invitation of a friend to join him in the brand new town of Gorey in County Wexford to “avail of the fresh country air”.
They stayed at an Inn on the Main street of the small town. Bobs Bar now stands in its place, but Frenches Pub, a few doors down hasn’t been redecorated since the early 1800s, so if you fancy retracing the steps of this story head there for the full atmospheric effect!
Their first few nights went great, they got to know some locals, enjoyed sampling the locally brewed Ale and took some splendid walks in the nearby woodlands and along the beach. Even going back that far Wexford had a reputation for great food and according to Swifts Journal entries they made the most of it. Remarking that the beef pies in particular were a thing to remember.
All was great until one afternoon shortly before they were due to return to Dublin via the Stage Coach. Swift was standing on the footpath (outside where Katie’s Bar stands now, yes there are a lot of pubs in this town!) talking to one of the locals. His friend crossed the street to their lodgings in order that he might settle their bill. When all of a sudden there was a ferocious noise from the top of the Main Street!
A large ornately decorated coach came crashing into sight, at high speed, the horses whinnying in distress. Swift turned to check on his friend only to see he was oblivious to what was headed straight for him! Quickly he shouted out a warning, as did the man he had been talking to, “Watch out!”
As they shouted, the horses veered towards Swift’s friend, almost as if on purpose.
He threw himself into the muck, animal waste and detritus of John Street, with seconds to spare. The hooves clattering by mere inches from him as they raced on down the street towards the old Dublin Road, the driver, quite obviously drunk laughing like a loon as he passed.
Swift pulled his friend from the gutter and they retired to Bob’s bar for a restorative brandy. Dean Swift was utter furious, and even more so when a curt note arrived from the local landowner Able Ram, brusquely apologising for any upset his driver may have caused.
Well Jonathan Swift was not happy at all about this. Did the man not know who he was? A mere slip of paper with a scribbled note of apology just wasn’t going to cut it!
So he sent a longer note back saying how insulted he was, the driver must be sacked at once and he desired and deserved a much better apology than a mere note.
And that should his demands not be met, well he would be forced to accuse the Squire of attempted murder!
It seems Able Ram, wasn’t interested in placating Swift, or of any attempted murder charges as no return note arrived. And so it is said, that Swift after a few more drinks, walked the short distance to Able Ram’s grand house, followed by a small crowd of curious onlookers made up of locals and other travellers.
With great posturing, Dean Swift banged on the door loudly proclaiming his presence and demand for a proper apology.
Had Jonathan Swift taken the time to ask a local about Able Swift, he would have gotten good warning to avoid him and realised why so many had followed him to witness what might happen. A notorious bully and cheapskate, there were many stories about him. He had inherited the lands from an ancestor who came to Ireland with the infamous Oliver Cromwell. The fertile lands of Wexford had been awarded to his most loyal soldiers, those who conducted the darkest deeds and it seems Able was no different.
The huge front doors swung open and there was Able Ram himself, red with fury at being disturbed and holding a loaded musket in each hand!
Swift and the crowd turned on their heels and scarpered back to the safety of the Inn as fast as they could.
No doubt back at the bar, they spent the rest of the night tearing into Ram’s reputation and standing. Which to be honest, wouldn’t have taken long. Once, it was said, he had as a house guest, a portly round cleric. The Priest stayed for about two weeks. This rotund and hearty man suffered a terrible scourge it was said, having been served little food and bad beer and returned home with the “waist of a weasel”
Dean Swift returned to Dublin and wasted no time in letting everyone know of his experience in Gorey till it eventually reached the media, the London Times reporting that “Irelands Pride and Glory, was butted in a Slough by the Ram of Gorey”
There is no record to confirm if Jonathan Swift ever returned again but luckily Swift’s experience of Gorey was not a typical one, and visitors still came to Gorey for their health, and when the Railway line was put down a hundred or so years later, and people could avoid the Highwaymen, tourism in Wexford really took off, but that’s another story!