Surveys of Dublin, I: The vision of Solomon second-sight, 1811

Published in Blogging Irish History


Title page of ‘It could be so’. Note the ambiguous quotation from Othello.

In 1811 an anonymous pamphleteer known as ‘Solomon second-sight’  published a tract entitled It could be so, in which revealed a sinister dream to his readers. Solomon claimed that he was not the first to have a vision along these lines. For those who might be uncertain as to what Solomon’s vision meant, before revealing it to prospective readers he directed them to Archbishop William King’s State of the Protestants in Ireland under the late King James’ government (1691), a standard work of alarmist propaganda in which was told the story of how ‘King James designed to destroy and utterly ruin the Protestant Religion, the liberty and property of the subjects in general, the English interest in Ireland in particular, and alter the very frame and constitution of the government’. But according to Solomon his dream might yet become real, for the good Dr. King, ‘while broad awake, was an eye witness to similar transactions’.


Solomon’s journey around his dream-city began at Christ Church, where he met a mysterious man dressed in white robes emblazoned with red crosses, and holding a rosary. Inside the cathedral friars belonging to the ‘established church’ were conducting a ceremony to purify it after centuries of Protestant occupation. Going past Dublin Castle, Solomon learned that a French viceroy now resided there. It was with difficulty that he made his way down Dame Street, for it was clogged with members of a bewildering range of Catholic orders – Franciscans, Carthusians, Dominicans, Benedictines – and he was repeatedly obliged to kneel before processions of the host. At College Green he visited ‘the National Bank’ (formerly the Bank of Ireland), which was being converted into a new ‘conservative senate’, due to arrive from France very soon. The building had been stripped of its statues of plenty, commerce, and justice, for, as Solomon’s guide put it, ‘we had no further occasion for them’. Protestant merchants had been driven out of the country, as Ireland went from ‘royal’ to ‘republican’ to ‘imperial’.


Before reaching Trinity College—now ‘that great and fruitful seminary of the Catholic religion established in Ireland’—Solomon surveyed College Green and noted a striking absentee.


‘Where’, he asked of his guide, ‘is the statue of King William?’



Late 19th/early 20th century image of College Green and TCD. Note the statue of William of Orange in the centre (Donal Fallon).

Grinling Gibbons’ statue of William III had been erected in 1701; in 1811 Solomon envisaged that the victor of the Boyne would be gone from College Green (it was removed after a bomb attack in 1928).


In the dream, Dublin had being remoulded into a Catholic capital; removing the statue of the traditional deliverer of Protestant Ireland was a symbol of the change that Solomon was witnessing. And it got worse as more was revealed to him. The Catholic relief acts of the late eighteenth-century that had rolled back most of the Penal Laws were simply the thin end of the wedge. As Solomon’s guide put it, ‘in 1773, when the Catholics of Ireland were first enabled to acquire an interest in land, the doom of Protestantism was sealed’, for ‘yet the last concession was ever turned into an argument for something further’. Solomon’s vision was the culmination of that process. Now Catholics controlled Dublin’s city council, and the mayor was due to present an address to Napoleon Bonaparte himself. A proclamation warned of Protestant spies in the city (‘heretics, calling themselves Protestants’), and threatened those Protestants who had not taken the ‘oaths of allegiance and of the papal supremacy’ with expulsion or death. Protestants were to surrender their weapons, on pain of death. They were subject to curfew, and could not gather in groups of more then five, again under pain of death. The proclamation concluded:




If that wasn’t ominous enough, at the Four Courts’ Solomon was assured that ‘the attaint of English blood, though diluted over six centuries with the holy waters of our Shannon, can never lose its original impurity’. While digesting this, he saw a great procession to greet a Papal Nuncio, here to enforce ‘the strict payment of Tithes to the Holy See’. But had not ‘our peasantry exclaimed against tithes, as a system of the cruellest injustice’? Here was a traditional grievance against Protestant ‘ascendancy’ turned on its head.


Finally, Solomon and his companion came to Smithfield, which was to be put to the same use that had made its London counterpart so notorious in the sixteenth-century: Protestant prisoners were about to be burned alive at the stake.


Protestants being burned at the stake at London’s Smithfield during the reign of Queen Mary (1516-1558): A model for what might happen on Dublin’s Smithfield?


It was too much for Solomon: ‘God of mercy, is this Ireland?’


‘Seize on the heretic!’, cried a voice, but Solomon awoke before meeting the horrible fate that surely awaited him.


‘Oh how glad I waked, to find it but a dream!’


We don’t know who ‘Solomon second-sight’ was, but his politics could be categorized as ‘ultra-Protestant’. As Dublin had expanded in the eighteenth century, much of the symbolism of its built environment had become emblematic of Protestantism, in the form of the established Church of Ireland. What Solomon was doing was turning this world upside down, in an account that purported to reveal how the traditional symbols and venues of Protestant ‘ascendancy’ – the statue of William, or Trinity College – were to be appropriated by a new, Catholic ‘ascendancy’. True, it was written during the Napoleonic wars, which reinvigorated traditional fears of Catholic France, but the reference to the Catholic relief act of 1773 suggests that Solomon was tapping into a deeper set of Irish Protestant fears; that their status was being slowly but surely overturned. Not only had the concordat of 1801 restored the Catholic Church in France after the devastation of the revolution, but the lingering prospect of Catholic emancipation in Ireland after the Act of Union kept a fervent sectarianism alive in some quarters. By evoking his vision of Dublin as a Catholic capital, Solomon was simply reviving a traditional form of anti-Catholic polemic. In this he was not alone; but he was certainly more ingenious then most.


Further reading:


It would be so. A vision, by Solomon second-sight (Dublin, 1811).


Robin Usher, Protestant Dublin, 1660-1760: Architecture and iconography (Basingstoke, 2012).


John Gibney



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