Whenever I go to Dublin, which is often enough but not as frequently as I’d like – my daughter-in-law is a Galway girl – I always head up New Street to catch up with my old mate Jonnie at St. Patrick’s Cathedral there.
He doesn’t like me calling him that.
He much prefers the proper epithet Jonathan, but I’m from OZ where names are either abbreviated or lengthened and he understands.
He used to be Dean there but these days he’s resting someplace else though his body is still around.
Anyway, he’s got a chair there and I go up and sit with him a while; we chat about things, the state of the world, the problems in Ireland, the course of love, things like that.
Many of you probably know him as the author of some children’s books and the inspiration behind some modern day cartoons: Gulliver’s Travels, Voyage to Lilliput, things like that.
He has a chuckle when he thinks of them being read and told to little kids but he’s also sad and a bit angry because he has written many things designed to show a mirror to humanity and its many failings, as he sees them.
He was a good and well-organised Dean and one who, though suffering from Meniere’s disease, really cared for the Irish population, especially the poor and needy who were doing it hard under the heel of English landlords that had possession of much of the land and owned all the great houses.
Gulliver’s Travels was, of course, not written for children at all.
He tells me he wrote it as a biting satire on the ludicrous behaviour at the court, in the parliament and in England more generally – political parties defining themselves according to which end they broke open their breakfast eggs, indeed!
However he tells me that he regards his most important work as “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick” – a good and worthy aim for any time or country.
Since the real talent for young women in Ireland was producing babies he proposed that if they saw this as an advantage rather than an immoral difficulty a whole new industry might be developed that could provide them with an income since new markets could be introduced for exploitation of the stock of babies.
There is very little cost involved in the shortish suckling period and then they might be slaughtered to produce fine dishes for the tables of the wealthy and a range of artifacts could be developed from various aspects of their carcasses.
I asked him what he hoped would be the outcome of such an outrageous pamphlet.
He said that he sought to draw attention to the extreme inequality and exploitation then existing in Ireland, driven by the avarice of the wealthy.
“One per cent of the citizens commanded ninety per cent of the wealth,” he exclaimed.
That’s when I laughed.
“Things haven’t changed much, Jonnie,” I said.
“Then why don’t you try baby farming,” he said, “costs of production are low and the potential for profit is enormous, but you have to take a very disciplined, some would say hard hearted approach,” he warned.
I thought immediately of possibilities for Nauru and Mannus.