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On Barbarous Denominations in Ireland

Author: Jonathan Swift

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Electronic edition compiled by Benjamin Hazard

Funded by University College, Cork and
The Higher Education Authority via the CELT Project.

1. Second draft, with enlarged bibliography

Extent of text: 2844 words


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    Editions and secondary Literature
  1. An excellent bibliography covering many aspects of Jonathan Swift's Life, his writings, and criticism, compiled by Lee Jaffe, is available at
  2. J. Bowles Daly (ed.), Ireland in the days of Dean Swift, Irish tracts 1720-1734. (London 1887).
  3. Frederick Ryland (ed.), Swift's Journal to Stella, A.D. 1710-1713. (London 1897).
  4. Temple Scott (ed.), A tale of a tub, and other early works. (London 1897).
  5. Frederick Falkiner, Essays on the portraits of Swift: Swift and Stella. (London 1908).
  6. C. M. Webster, Swift's Tale of a Tub compared with Earlier Satires of the Puritans. Proceedings of the Modern Language Association 47/1 (March 1932) 171–178.
  7. Stephen L. Gwynn, The life and friendships of Dean Swift. (London 1933).
  8. Stanley Lane-Poole (ed.), Selections from the prose writings of Jonathan Swift with a preface and notes. (London 1933).
  9. Ricardo Quintana, The mind and art of Jonathan Swift. (Oxford 1936).
  10. Louis A. Landa, Swift's Economic Views and Mercantilism, English Literary History 10/4 (December 1943) 310–335.
  11. R. Wyse Jackson, Swift and his circle. (Dublin 1945).
  12. Herbert Davis, The Satire of Jonathan Swift (New York 1947).
  13. Martin Price, Swift's rhetorical art. (New York 1953).
  14. Robert C. Elliott, Swift and Dr Eachard. Proceedings of the Modern Language Association 69/5 (December 1954) 1250–1257.
  15. John Middleton Murry, Jonathan Swift: A Critical Biography. (London 1954).
  16. John Middleton Murry, Swift. (London: Published for the British Council and the National Book League 1955).
  17. Kathleen Williams, Swift and the age of compromise. (London 1959).
  18. John M. Bullitt, Jonathan Swift and the anatomy of satire: a study of satiric technique. (Harvard 1961).
  19. Harold Williams (ed.), The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift. (Oxford 1963–65).
  20. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Jonathan Swift: essays on his satire and other studies. (New York 1964).
  21. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Gulliver's Travels. [based on the Faulkner edition, Dublin 1735] (Oxford 1965).
  22. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Swift: poetical works. (New York 1967).
  23. R. B. McDowell, 'Swift as a political thinker'. In: Roger Joseph McHugh and Philip Edwards, Jonathan Swift: 1667–1967, a Dublin tercentenary tribute (Dublin 1967). 176–186.
  24. Brian Vickers (ed.), The world of Jonathan Swift: essays for the tercentenary. (Oxford 1968).
  25. Kathleen Williams, Jonathan Swift. (London 1968).
  26. Morris Golden, The self observed: Swift, Johnson, Wordsworth. (Baltimore 1972.)
  27. Jane M. Snyder, The meaning of 'Musaeo contingens cuncta lepore', Lucretius 1.934, Classical World 66 (1973) 330–334.
  28. Claude Julien Rawson, Gulliver and the gentle reader: studies in Swift and our time. (London and Boston 1973).
  29. A. L. Rowse, Jonathan Swift, major prophet. (London 1975).
  30. Alexander Norman Jeffares, Jonathan Swift. (London 1976).
  31. Clive T. Probyn, Jonathan Swift: the contemporary background. (Manchester 1978).
  32. Clive T. Probyn (ed.), The art of Jonathan Swift. (London 1978).
  33. Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The man, his works, and the age (three volumes). (London 1962–83).
  34. David M. Vieth (ed.), Essential articles for the study of Jonathan Swift's poetry. (Hamden 1984).
  35. James A. Downie, Jonathan Swift, political writer. (London 1985).
  36. Frederik N. Smith (ed.), The genres of Gulliver's travels. (London 1990).
  37. James Kelly, 'Jonathan Swift and the Irish Economy in the 1720s', Eighteenth-Century Ireland 6 (1991) 7–36.
  38. Joseph McMinn (ed.), Swift's Irish pamphlets. (Gerrards Cross 1991).
  39. Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift: the Irish identity. (Yale 1995).
  40. Christopher Fox, Walking Naboth's vineyards: new studies of Swift (University of Notre Dame Ward-Philips lectures in English language and literature, Vol. 13). (Notre Dame/Indiana 1995).
  41. Claude Rawson (ed.), Jonathan Swift: a collection of critical essays. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jeresey, 1995).
  42. Michael Stanley, Famous Dubliners: W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Wolfe Tone, Oscar Wilde, Edward Carson. (Dublin 1996).
  43. Daniel Carey, 'Swift among the freethinkers'. Eighteenth-century Ireland: Iris an dá chultúr, 12 (1997) 89–99.
  44. Victoria Glendinning, Jonathan Swift. (London 1998).
  45. Aileen Douglas; Patrick Kelly; Ian Campbell Ross, (eds.). Locating Swift: essays from Dublin on the 250th anniversary of the death of Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745. (Dublin 1998).
  46. Bruce Arnold, Swift: an illustrated life. (Dublin 1999).
  47. Nigel Wood (ed.), Jonathan Swift. (London and New York 1999).
  48. Christopher J. Fauske, Jonathan Swift and the Church of Ireland, 1710–24 (Portland/Oregon 2001).
  49. David George Boyce; Robert Eccleshall; Vincent Geoghegan (eds.), Political discourse in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ireland. (Basingstoke and New York 2001).
  50. Ann Cline Kelly, Jonathan Swift and popular culture: myth, media and the man. Basingstoke 2002.
  51. Dirk F. Passmann and Heinz J. Vienken, The library and reading of Jonathan Swift: a bio-bibliographical handbook. 4 vols. (Frankfurt 2003).
  52. Mark McDayter, 'The haunting of St James's Library: librarians, literature, and The Battle of the Books'. Huntington Library Quarterly, 66:1–2 (2003) 1–26.
  53. Frank T. Boyle, 'Jonathan Swift' [A companion to satire]. In: Ruben Quintero (ed.), A companion to satire (Oxford 2007) 196–211.
  54. Harry Whitaker, C. U. M. Smith and Stanley Finger (eds.), Explorations of the Brain, Mind and Medicine in the Writings of Jonathan Swift. Springer (US) 2007.
    The edition used in the digital edition.
  1. Temple Scott, On Barbarous Denominations in Ireland in The prose works of Jonathan Swift D. D., volume 7 (Historical and political tracts–Irish), Ed. Temple Scott. , London, George Bell and Sons (1905) page 343-50


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Created: By Jonathan Swift (1728)

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Language: [EN] Whole text in English.

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Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition: E700001-006

On Barbarous Denominations in Ireland: Author: Jonathan Swift



I have been lately looking over the advertisements in some of your Dublin newspapers, which are sent me to the country, and was much entertained with a large list of denominations of lands, to be sold or let. I am confident they must be genuine; for it is impossible that either chance or modern invention could sort the alphabet in such a manner as to make those abominable sounds; whether first invented to invoke or fright away the devil, I must leave among the curious.

If I could wonder at anything barbarous, ridiculous, or absurd, among us, this should be one of the first. I have often lamented that Agricola, the father-in-law of Tacitus, was not prevailed on by that petty king from Ireland, who followed his camp, to come over and civilize us with a conquest, as his countrymen did Britain, where several Roman appellations remain to this day, and so would the rest have done, if that inundation of Angles, Saxons, and other northern people, had not changed them so much for the worse, although in no comparison with ours. In one of the advertisements just mentioned, I encountered near a hundred words together, which I defy any creature in human shape, except an Irishman of the savage kind, to pronounce; neither would I undertake such a task, to be owner of the lands, unless I had liberty to humanize the syllables twenty miles round. The legislature may think what they please, and that they are above copying the Romans in all their conquests of barbarous nations; but I am deceived, if anything has more contributed to prevent the Irish from being tamed, than this


encouragement of their language, which might be easily abolished, and become a dead one in half an age, with little expense, and less trouble.

How is it possible that a gentleman who lives in those parts where the town-lands (as they call them) of his estate produce such odious sounds from the mouth, the throat and the nose, can be able to repeat the words without dislocating every muscle that is used in speaking, and without applying the same tone to all other words, in every language he understands; as it is plainly to be observed not only in those people of the better sort who live in Galway and the Western parts, but in most counties of Ireland?

It is true, that, in the city parts of London, the trading people have an affected manner of pronouncing; and so, in my time, had many ladies and coxcombs at Court. It is likewise true, that there is an odd provincial cant in most counties in England, sometimes not very pleasing to the ear; and the Scotch cadence, as well as expression, are offensive enough. But none of these defects derive contempt to the speaker: whereas, what we call the Irish brogue is no sooner discovered, than it makes the deliverer in the last degree ridiculous and despised; and, from such a mouth, an Englishman expects nothing but bulls, blunders, and follies. Neither does it avail whether the censure be reasonable or not, since the fact is always so. And, what is yet worse, it is too well known, that the bad consequence of this opinion affects those among us who are not the least liable to such reproaches, farther than the misfortune of being born in Ireland, although of English parents, and whose education has been chiefly in that kingdom.

I have heard many gentlemen among us talk much of the great convenience to those who live in the country, that they should speak Irish. It may possibly be so; but I think they should be such who never intend to visit England, upon pain of being ridiculous; for I do not remember to have heard of anyone man that spoke Irish, who had not the accent upon his tongue easily discernible to any English ear.

But I have wandered a little from my subject, which was only to propose a wish that these execrable denominations were a little better suited to an English mouth, if it were


only for the sake of the English lawyers; who, in trials upon appeals to the House of Lords, find so much difficulty in repeating the names, that, if the plaintiff or defendant were by, they would never be able to discover which were their own lands. But, besides this, I would desire, not only that the appellations of what they call town-lands were changed, but likewise of larger districts, and several towns, and some counties; and particularly the seats of country-gentlemen, leaving an alias to solve all difficulties in point of law. But I would by no means trust these alterations to the owners themselves; who, as they are generally no great clerks, so they seem to have no large vocabulary about them, nor to be well skilled in prosody. The utmost extent of their genius lies in naming their country habitation by a hill, a mount, a brook, a burrow, a castle, a bawn, a ford, and the like ingenious conceits. Yet these are exceeded by others, whereof some have contrived anagramatical appellations, from half their own and their wives' names joined together: others only from the lady; as, for instance, a person whose wife's name was Elizabeth, calls his seat by the name of Bess-borow. There is likewise a famous town, where the worst iron in the kingdom is made, and it is called Swandlingbar: the original of which name I shall explain, lest the antiquaries of future ages might be at a loss to derive it. It was a most witty conceit of four gentlemen, who ruined themselves with this iron project. Sw. stands for Swift,1 And. for Sanders, Ling for Davling, and Bar. for Barry. Methinks I see the four loggerheads sitting in consult, like Smectymnuus, each gravely contributing a part of his own name, to make up one for their place in the ironwork; and could wish they had been hanged, as well as undone, for their wit. But I was most pleased with the denomination of a town-land, which I lately saw in an advertisement of Pue's paper: ‘This is to give notice, that the lands of Douras, alias WHIG-borough,’ &c. Now, this zealous proprietor, having a mind to record his principles in religion or loyalty to future ages, within five miles round him, for want of other merit, thought fit to make use of this expedient: wherein he


seems to mistake his account; for this distinguishing term whig, had a most infamous original, denoting a man who favoured the fanatic sect, and an enemy to kings, and so continued till this idea was a little softened, some years after the Revolution, and during a part of her late Majesty's reign. After which it was in disgrace until the Queen's death since which time it hath indeed flourished with a witness: But how long will it continue so, in our variable scene, or what kind of mortal it may describe, is a question which this courtly landlord is not able to answer; and therefore he should have set a date on the title of his borough, to let us know what kind of a creature a whig was in that year of our Lord. I would readily assist nomenclators of this costive imagination and therefore I propose to others of the same size in thinking, that, when they are at a loss about christening a country-seat, instead of straining their invention, they would call it Booby-borough, Fool-brook, Puppy-ford, Coxcombhall, Mount-loggerhead, Dunce-hill; which are innocent appellations, proper to express the talents of the owners. But I cannot reconcile myself to the prudence of this lord of WHIG-borough, because I have not yet heard, among the Presbyterian squires, how much soever their persons and principles are in vogue, that any of them have distinguished their country abode by the name of Mount-regicide, Covenant-hall, Fanatic-hill, Roundhead-bawn, Canting-brook, or Mount-rebel, and the like; because there may probably come a time when those kind of sounds may not be so grateful to the ears of the kingdom. For I do not conceive it would be a mark of discretion, upon supposing a gentleman, in allusion to his name, or the merit of his ancestors, to call his house Tyburn-hall.

But the scheme I would propose for changing the denominations of land into legible and audible syllables, is by employing some gentlemen in the University; who, by the knowledge of the Latin tongue, and their judgment in sounds, might imitate the Roman way, by translating those hideous words into their English meanings, and altering the termination where a bare translation will not form a good cadence to the ear, or be easily delivered from the mouth. And, when both those means happen to fail, then to name the parcels of land from the nature of the soil, or some peculiar circumstance


belonging to it; as, in England, Farn-ham, Oat-lands, Black-heath, Corn-bury, Rye-gate, Ash-burnham, Barn-elms, Cole-orton, Sand-wich, and many others.

I am likewise apt to quarrel with some titles of lords among us, that have a very ungracious sound, which are apt to communicate mean ideas to those who have not the honour to be acquainted with their persons or their virtues, of whom I have the misfortune to be one. But I cannot pardon those gentlemen who have gotten titles since the judicature of the peers among us has been taken away, to which they all submitted with a resignation that became good Christians, as undoubtedly they are. However, since that time, I look upon a graceful harmonious title to be at least forty per cent. in the value intrinsic of an Irish peerage; and, since it is as cheap as the worst, for any Irish law hitherto enacted in England to the contrary, I would advise the next set, before they pass their patents, to call a consultation of scholars and musical gentlemen, to adjust this most important and essential circumstance. The Scotch noblemen, though born almost under the north pole, have much more tunable appellations, except some very few, which I suppose were given them by the Irish along with their language, at the time when that kingdom was conquered and planted from hence; and to this day retain the denominations of places, and surnames of families, as all historians agree.2


I should likewise not be sorry, if the names of some bishops' sees were so much obliged to the alphabet, that upon pronouncing them we might contract some veneration for the order and persons of those reverend peers, which the gross ideas sometimes joined to their titles are very unjustly apt to diminish.