Institutions and Shadows: Jonathan Swift, Enlightenment and Recent Irish Poetry

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This article traces Jonathan Swift’s legacy in the work of three modern Irish poets: Jessica Traynor, Rita Ann Higgins and Derek Mahon. I use two motifs to explore this inheritance: institutions and shadows. Using the work of Genevieve Lloyd, I argue that meaningful engagement with Enlightenment’s legacy must recognise its moral ambiguity and emotional complexity through the metaphor of shadow. Institutions, whether in the case of St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin (Ireland’s first psychiatric hospital, founded by Swift), the residential institutions of the twentieth century or the modern apparatus of Direct Provision, embody a continuing legacy of suffering, control and containment. Imagination and empathy are the difficult but necessary means through which these legacies must be acknowledged and confronted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-70
Number of pages15
JournalEstudios Irlandeses
Issue number2
Early online date20 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 20 Dec 2023


  • Derek Mahon
  • asylum seekers
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Enlightenment
  • Ireland
  • Jessica Traynor
  • Rita Ann Higgins


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