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Founded in 1190 the building is mainly Early English in style, but its square tower is fourteenth century and the spire an eighteenth century addition. The original structure was extensively rebuilt towards the end of the fourteenth century after a fire. In 1320, the Pope founded a university which had its home in the cathedral until it was suppressed by Henry VIII.

During the seventeenth-century wars Cromwellian troopers stabled their horses in the aisles. The building was in a ruinous state when a thorough restoration was carried out in the 1860s.

The 300-foot long interior (St Patrick's is the longest church in Ireland) has many historical relics. They include monuments commemorating Richard Boyle, the Duke of Schomberg, the Irish bard O'Carolan and the poet Samuel Lover.

St Patrick's is perhaps best known for its associations with Jonathan Swift, who was Dean from 1713 to 1745. The pulpit from which he preached is still to be seen. In the south aisle is his tomb, and over the door of the robing-room is his own poignant epitaph: "He lies where furious indignation can no longer rend his heart." Near by is the grave of Hester Johnson ("Stella"), one of Swift's two great loves.