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Swift's Lasting Legacy

250 years of change

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Swift's Lasting Legacy


Prof Anthony Clare


"Vision", declared Dean Jonathan Swift, "is the art of seeing things invisible." Over 250 years ago, he saw what nobody else seemed to notice, that the psychiatrically ill were neglected and abused and that what was needed was a place, a properly designed, administered, staffed and funded hospital where they would he protected and treated. That combination of vision, compassion, energy and will to provide the best and most effective diagnostic and treatment approaches available and to foster positive attitudes to psychiatric illness is what inspires and motivates his hospital to this day.

As Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Swift's desire to improve conditions for the oppressed, the poor and the alienated grew. These concerns became the blueprint for a dedicated psychiatric hospital free of the abuses of the institutions at the time with an independent board of governors which would protect patients and safeguard the hospital's ongoing development and improvement.

On October the 19th 1745 the venerable and sick Dean died, leaving his entire estate, derived from royalties of his writings including his great satirical work, Gulliver's Travels, for the founding of a hospital for the psychiatrically ill, the first in Ireland. The hospital was granted a Royal Charter by George II on August 8th 1746. One of its earliest governors, a treasurer to the board and visiting state physician to the hospital was Dr Robert Emmet, father of the patriot.

St Patrick's was built by architect George Semple following Dean Swift's detailed and painstaking instructions. It is now the oldest, purpose built psychiatric hospital continuously functioning on its original site in these islands and one of the oldest in the world.

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