Love Story
June 2
Picture of a bird's feather in a green ink bottle with packages tied with twine in the background.

Vanessa and Swift: A (complicated !!) love story

Venue: The Slip Hall, Christchurch, Celbridge

Date: June 2

A talk by Dr. Brendan Twomey.

This talk will explore this fifteen- year long, and in the end tragic, love story much of which took place on the banks of the Liffey in the serene grounds of the Vanhomrigh house in Celbridge Abbey. Accompanied by interludes by harpist Mary Keenan.

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The story

Since her early death (aged only 35) three hundred years ago on 2 June 1723 the complicated relationship between Esther Vanhomrigh, named ‘Vanessa’ by Swift, and Jonathan Swift the famous author of Gulliver’s Travels, has fascinated biographers, poets, and the reading public.

The evidence for this relationship – primarily made up of Vanessa’s passionate letters to Swift and his lengthy poem entitled Cadenus and Vanessa – is both  complicated and incomplete so it is really difficult for us to see the full picture. That Vanessa had a deep and enduring love for Swift is clear; our knowledge of his feelings for her are much less certain. The complications arose not just because Swift was more than twenty years older than Vanessa but also because of the presence of another enduring female relationship in Swift’s life – Esther Johnson, dubbed Stella by Swift; to coin a phrase – the relationship was rather crowded. We know that the Vanessa Swift love story ended badly but exactly how and why remains a mystery.

Speaker & Harpist

Brendan Twomey photo

Dr. Brendan Twomey

Dr Brendan Twomey is a retired banker. His main areas of historical interest are money and finance and the history of Dublin in the eighteenth century. Over the past decade he has researched in detail the financial, legal and personal affairs of Jonathon Swift.

Mary Keenan photo Harpist

Mary Keenan

Mary Keenan plays traditional and instrumental harp. She has performed for President Higgins and President McAleese and regularly plays at church and civil ceremony weddings.

Mary plays a wide range of music, from popular pieces such as Ag Chriost an Siol to several other well-known O’Carolan pieces, planxties, slow airs and Carolan’s concerto pieces.