Swift defined a single crossing of the Irish Sea as a ‘voyage.’ In his autobiographical fragment he recorded that when he was still an infant his mother had ‘sent orders by all means not to hazard a second voyage.’ The context clearly requires the term to mean the return leg of the outward voyage to England from Dublin made by his nurse and the 12-month old Swift three years before. Many years later and after landing at Dublin on 1 June 1704 he said he had completed his sixteenth voyage, but as the following list indicates, his letters and account books provide evidence for only fourteen. There is no reason to doubt Swift’s total: the only question is when the missing round trip (two ‘voyages’) might have taken place.
Between the ages of six and twenty-two, Swift may never have been in his mother’s company. These were the years of schooling at Kilkenny College (1673-81) and of his student career at Trinity College Dublin (1682-86), the latter terminated when he left for England because of the ‘troubles’ in Ireland in 1689. If an unrecorded meeting and such a trip did take place, the first convenient opportunity would have been in his fifteenth year, between finishing school and entering TCD in April 1682. The two ‘missing’ voyages are therefore inserted here, conjecturally, as 3 and 4.
There was at least one and maybe several meetings of mother and son before 1704, though none requiring Swift to make a voyage. Lyon states that Abigail Swift ‘sometimes came to Ireland, to visit him [her son] after his settlement at Laracor. She lodged at Mr Brent’s the printer in George’s Lane, Dublin … He always treated his mother, during her life, with the utmost duty and affection.’1 Orrery claims (Remarks, Letter III) that Abigail Swift ‘came over to Ireland’ with the purpose of reconciling her son to his sister Jane’s marriage in Dublin as Joseph Fenton’s second wife and step-mother to his two children. No date is given for Abigail’s visit, but Jane’s marriage licence was granted on 13 December 1699. The trouble between brother and sister suggests a major rift, requiring Abigail’s presence in Dublin. Jonathan was 32 and Jane was now 33 years old, and in view of later financial provisions to Jane made by both Abigail and Jonathan, it was important to reassure herself about the character and prospects of Joseph Fenton. Swift never took to Fenton and always regarded the marriage as unwise on Jane’s part. In view of Delany’s remark (Observations, p. 72) that Abigail visited Dublin from London ‘on that occasion,’ we might reasonably date Abigail’s visit to December 1699. If she crossed once, of course, she could have crossed again, but we lack any evidence that she did so.
Of Swift’s 28 voyages we can be sure of only four that certainly involved him travelling in Wales, numbers 22, 24, 26 and 28. There may well have been others, for which information is lacking, but even this small number indicates that when he had a free choice of itinerary, was travelling independently, and when speed was necessary, he returned to Dublin via Holyhead but seems never to have arrived in Holyhead from Dublin when on his way to Chester and London. The complete list of known voyages is as follows:
- The infant Swift taken from Dublin across the Irish Sea to Whitehaven, Cumbria, by his nurse, c. 1668
- Both return from Whitehaven to Dublin, Swift now three years old, c. 1670-71
- Between leaving school at Kilkenny College and entry to TCD Swift may have left Dublin for Leicester at the end of 1681
- If so, he returned from Leicester to Dublin and entry to TCD before April 1682
- TCD suspends itself in face of civil war and Swift flees to Leicester, 26 January 1689 (‘I went a lad to my mother, after the Revolution’), then to Sheen and Moor Park, where he becomes the tutor of the 8-year old Stella
- Returns from Moor Park to Ulster with Sir Robert Southwell, Principal Secretary of State, June 1690, seeking preferment
- From Dublin to Leicester (August-December 1691: MA Oxford, June-July, 1692)
- Returns to Dublin in summer of 1694 (25 October ordained deacon, and priest on 13 January 1695)
- To Moor Park via Leicester, May 1696, stays for three years, by which time Stella is 18 years old. Temple dies 1699.
- Returns to Dublin from the Earl of Berkeley’s Gloucestershire castle, 18 July 1699, via Bristol, as the Earl’s domestic chaplain. Arrives Waterford 17 August 1699
- Leaves Dublin for England with Berkeley, 9 April 1701
- Returns from London to Dublin and arrives at his Laracor vicarage 18 September 1701. Graduates Doctor of Divinity at TCD in February 1702
- Returns to England: Leicester (April), London (May), Moor Park (July) 1702
- Returns to Ireland, October 1702
- From Dublin to England, departing 11 November, via Chester (13) and Leicester (15 - 24), arriving in London before 26 November 1703
- To Ireland after a week (from 20 May) in Leicester, leaving Neston 30 May and arriving Dublin 1 June 1704: ‘my 16th Voyage’
- From Dublin to London, March 1705
- London to Laracor, Autumn 1705
- Laracor to England, leaving 28 November 1707, crossing to Parkgate in entourage of Lord Lieutenant, Earl of Pembroke, then making his own way via Derby to Leicester
- Returns to Laracor, leaving London 5 May; Leicester 14 June; Dalpool 29 June; landed Dublin 30 June 1709
- Returns to London, leaving Dublin 31 August, crossing to Parkgate (1 September), arriving 7 September 1710; travelled with Viscount Mountjoy, Irish Privy Councillor, from Chester to London. Harley now in power
- To Dublin, leaving London 1 June 1713 for Chester (6-8 June), Holyhead (10) arriving Dublin on Wednesday 10 June at 9. 00 p.m.
- Returns to London, leaving Dublin Saturday 29 August, reached Parkgate 31 August, to Finedon, Northants, set off for London 1 September, arriving 9 September 1713
- To Dublin, leaving Letcombe Bassett, near Wantage, Berkshire 16 August, via Holyhead, arriving Dublin 24 August 1714: ‘I care not to fight against Sea and Wind so late in my life’
- To London via Chester and Oxford, leaving Dublin on Sunday 6 March and arriving Bury Street, St James’s, 16 March 1726
- To Dublin, via Chester and Holyhead, leaving London 15 August and arriving 22 August 1726
- Final visit to London, leaving Dublin 9 April 1727, via Goodrich, Oxford (18), Twickenham (21 April)
- Final return voyage to Dublin, leaving 18 September, via Chester and Holyhead, arriving Carlingford on 2 October, Dublin on 4 October, 1727.
Biographical Anecdotes, I. xxv.