Tag Archives: Gulliver’s Travels

The Belfast Hills and Gulliver’s Travels

In this blog, my primary target has been the fake etymology of Daniel Cassidy but I have touched on a number of other phoney memes about Ireland and Irish such as the silly claim that Swift was inspired to write Gulliver’s travels by the appearance of Belfast’s Cave Hill, which looks like a sleeping giant. Extensions of this myth say that Swift also took the name Lilliput from a farm in North Belfast as the name for his nation of tiny people and that Lilliput Street commemorates this farm. According to many sources, the name Lilliput in Belfast goes back to before the time when Swift lived in the area.

The truth is quite different, as I have said before. Swift did live in Kilroot near Carrickfergus for about two years between 1694 and 1696, and had a relationship with a girl called Jane Waring from Waring Street in Belfast, so he undoubtedly travelled into the town through the area around Lilliput Street, and Cave Hill does look a little like a sleeping giant. However, he did not write Gulliver’s Travels until the 1720s (it was published in 1726) and there is absolutely no evidence that Swift had Cave Hill in mind when he wrote about his giants.

In fact, the idea that Swift was inspired by Cave Hill is very recent. The earliest reference to it that I can find is from an article in the Scotsman in 2004. Experts on Swift and his work tend to make the point that Swift was influenced by the French writer Rabelais, whose satirical works about the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel are much more obvious as inspirations. For example, Oxford Quick Reference says about Rabelais that he had a widespread influence on English literature, particularly on S. Butler, Swift, Sterne, Peacock, and Joyce. Whole articles have been written on the subject, such as Eddy’s 1922 essay, Rabelais, a Source for Gulliver’s Travels. And then there is Marion Graz Carr’s 1924 work, A Comparison of the “Gargantua” and “Pantagruel” of Rabelais with Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” Just Google Swift and Rabelais and you will find hundreds of references.

As for the idea that Lilliput Farm in Belfast was the inspiration for the name Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels, this is only possible if Lilliput Farm was called that in the 1690s. This is often claimed on the internet and by self-appointed local historians in Belfast but if we look for evidence, there is none. The earliest reference to Lilliput as a place in the Belfast area seems to be (it’s not absolutely certain that it’s the one in the Belfast area but seems likely) a reference in the Belfast Newsletter to an auction of furniture at the house of Hercules Heyland in Lilliput in 1786. There are quite a few references to Lilliput House and its garden in the early 19th century too, and this is definitely in the right area of the city. It seems to have been a nursery or garden and seed suppliers at that time.

However, 1786 is sixty years after Gulliver’s Travels was published. It seems likely to me that someone chose to build a house and call it Lilliput because they were a fan of Swift or because they were small or the house was small – for some whimsical reason which hasn’t been recorded. If that’s the case, it wasn’t the only one. There was a Lilliput Lodge in Limerick in the early 19th century. There is also a Lilliput House at Nure in County Westmeath which was named after Swift’s creation in the 18th century. There are probably many other Lilliputs named after Gulliver’s Travels rather than the other way round.

There is also the question that Lilliput doesn’t sound like an Irish placename. There aren’t any places anywhere in Ireland (apart from the occasional Lilliput) with the element Put in them, to the best of my knowledge, and the same goes for Lilli. They aren’t common elements like kill or maghera or bally or knock…

So, if Swift didn’t get the name of Lilliput from a place in Belfast, where did he get it? Well, experts on Swift have speculated about that one. The answer seems to be that the Lilli- is a childish rendering of little, which makes perfect sense. As for the put, this word was a common slang term meaning a stupid fellow or a blockhead in Swift’s day. Swift was an opponent of slang and actually mentioned the word put as one of the words people shouldn’t use in an article he wrote in the Tatler in 1710! In other words, Lilliput would be the kingdom of the little fools.

And, just as the Irish language doesn’t need a Cassidy to make it interesting or important, the Belfast Hills have more than enough going for them without a fake association with Swift. They are stunningly beautiful and they are full of genuine history. So let’s just ditch all this newly-manufactured fakery and stick to the facts!

Gullible’s Travels – Dean Swift and Cave Hill

Serendipity is a strange thing. Just a couple of days ago, after I had written a post about the tendency to hide crap non-information with the words ‘it has been said’, I happened to be walking through a traffic island near Custom House Square in Belfast. There was a group of tourists there and a guide was pointing to Cave Hill. As I went past, he explained to them that Swift was thought to have got the idea for Gulliver’s Travels from the giant-like outline of the mountain.

I didn’t say anything but I should have done. This is complete shite. There is no evidence that Swift was inspired by Cave Hill. How can I be so sure? Well, I’m not the only one who’s suspicious. I found this blog: https://blarneycrone.com/2012/07/04/dean-swift-napoleons-nose-and-lilliput-street-are-they-by-any-chance-related/

As the blogger says: I thought I knew quite a lot about Dean Swift. I have even read Gulliver’s Travels. In all the stuff about satire, and St Patrick’s Cathedral and so on, I have never been aware of any connection between the great man of letters and the city of my birth. Yet this week in Belfast I have twice heard the same story about Jonathan Swift and his inspiration for Gulliver. Can it possibly be true?

Of course, Swift did live in Carrickfergus for a while and I’m sure he knew Belfast. But Swift never said that Belfast inspired him to write Gulliver. No book on Swift’s life or work or on Belfast’s history mentions this story. Most studies on Swift’s work emphasise that he was influenced by Gargantua and Pantagruel, the giants invented by Rabelais in his satirical writings nearly two hundred years before Gulliver’s Travels was published.

So where did this story of the Belfast origins of Gulliver’s Travels come from? Well, looking on Google, I have not been able to find any reference to this dating back before 2004, when it was mentioned in an article in The Scotsman. Yet, in the years since then, it has appeared in hundreds of websites and blogs and other sources.

Of course, there will be people who will say, what does it matter? It’s a good story, isn’t it? I’ll answer that with a quote from James Harbeck. He was referring to Cassidy’s nonsense but it is equally appropriate to this case.

But why should it matter, if it’s a good story? Well, for one thing, it’s bad history. For another, the real stories are often more interesting. For a third, if you want facts, don’t you want facts? And fourth, sometimes it’s done maliciously, as with the claim that picnic and nitty-gritty are racist terms, in spite of more-than-ample evidence to the contrary.

I don’t think there is anything truly malicious about the claim that Swift was inspired by the Belfast Hills but it’s certainly a cynical exploitation of other people’s gullibility. Those tourists thought they were learning something of value. In reality, they were just being fed a pile of bullshit. They probably went on to Dublin afterwards to learn how Bram Stoker called his vampire after the Irish for bad blood. Let’s hope they didn’t buy Cassidy’s book on the way. That would be a perfect storm of fake Irish nonsense!