chapter  2
“Oppression Makes a Wise Man Mad”
Representations of Jonathan Swift in the Writings of Francis Sylvester Mahony
WithFergus Dunne
Pages 24

This chapter revisits Francis Sylvester Mahony's comically tendentious reflections on the origins of Anglo-Irish literature, analyzing how he used the divisive figure of Swift to illustrate the complexity of literary reinterpretation in a contested historical context. It explores Mahony's efforts to tap into the dissenting political precedent offered by Swiftian polemics, focusing, in particular, on his reworking of Swift's ambivalent treatment of Irish themes during a period of literary reevaluation in 1830s Ireland. In the "Prout Papers," the term "disinterest" suggests not just political or nonsectarian impartiality but freedom from the suspicion of financial motivation, a charge which, as we have seen, Mahony repeatedly leveled against O'Connell, particularly in relation to his refusal to support a poor-law provision for his peasant supporters. Paradoxically, then, Mahony's unionist meditation on the ills of Irish society involved a radical backward look, its anti-historicist appeal to Swiftian precedent revisiting the past to suggest a more challenging means of viewing the present.