Trinity College is Ireland’s top university and most historical and is an unmissable attraction in the Irish capital. It is also the home of the famed Book of Kells. Here’s my guide on visiting the college.
Trinity College is located in College Green at the top of Dublin’s Dame Street. The street is perhaps Dublin’s finest, a stroll down takes you past the Bank of Ireland (the world’s first purpose built Parliament House), City Hall, Dublin Castle and up towards Christchurch Cathedral. Along the way you will find lots of high street shops, and charming restaurants and pubs.
But I’m here to talk about Trinity College. The college is accessed through its street side gates and under the arch of Regent House. You can expect swarms of people from students going about their business, city dwellers seeking a shortcut or a stroll, and lots of tour groups. The entrance is often the stopping point of walking tours so expect to hear a multitude of accents and languages. Thankfully it all eases off a little as you move inside.
Once inside you find yourself in the enclosed Parliament Square with several impressive buildings surrounding you. They all date from different centuries with none of them surviving since the first days of the college. You are free to stroll the grounds at your own liberty but to visit the Long Library Room and the Book of Kells you need to pay an admission. But before you go running off to open your wallet, stop. Entry into the exhibits costs €14 (early tour concession is €11) but right by the entrance is the stall to join one of the student led tours of the campus. It only costs an extra euro and with it you get admission to the exhibits.
We joined one of these tours when we visited recently. Our tour guide introduced himself as Tom. Hearing the name and with the student robes he was wearing, Tom Riddle popped into my head. But he looked nothing like Voldemort. He was blessed with a good sense of humour which makes being a tour guide a little easier. Again not particularly like Voldemort. As he was majoring in Law and Politics he offered the information that being able to stand in front of people and talk nonsense was second nature to him.
He started by providing a back story on Trinity, how all the land where it now stands was reclaimed from the once much wider Liffey River. The college was formed in 1592 by Royal Charter and at the time as Ireland was under direct British rule and only Protestants were allowed to attend the university. This was to ensure the continued controlling of the Protestant minority in Ireland. In essence keep us Catholics dumber. Thankfully the sands of time changes things.
What he didn’t of course reveal was how Trinity is looked upon in the city. Trinity is often perceived as an elitist college in Ireland. Locally those who attend Trinity College are known as Trinners. There is good rivalry with Dublin’s other more modern universities. A yearly event takes place called the Trinity Ball. This is a hugely popular social event in Dublin. It’s a black tie event featuring popular musicians which hosts up to 7000 people in the grounds and lays claim to being Europe’s largest private party. This event is held in April of each year.
Anyway back to the tour. Tom provided the back story on many of the buildings and the inconvenient truth that many of the buildings were never paid for. Several architects drew up plans for the buildings surrounding Parliament Square including Regent House but when they submitted the plans, they did so without prior payment and their plans were built by someone else.
The next buildings found within are the chapel and the exam hall, the irony not being lost that if you fail in the latter redemption may lie in the former. The exam hall is also where graduations take place and these ceremonies take place in Latin. I had the honour of participating in one of these graduations, not as a Trinity student but my course was conferred a degree by Trinity. These buildings were added in the mid to late 18th century.
Our guide Tom told of a new tradition that now takes place after graduation. For centuries Trinity didn’t allow females to attend and graduate. There was growing opposition to this in the late 18th century but in Provost George Salmon the university had a staunch conservatist who was opposed to this. He famously said “over my dead body will women enter this college”. In 1901 pressure forced him to allow women to enroll in courses but he did so with a heavy heart. He died a few years later as the first women started courses, and so his prophecy was complete. Trinity was the first university in the then Great Britain to allow women. So the new tradition is for recent female graduates to honour George Salmon, but climbing atop his statue and take selfies in defiance.
Taking center place in the square is the campanile. This bell tower was constructed in 1853 and the bell chimes at exam times and when meals are being served in the Dining Hall. The bell towers four sides are decorated with the statues of medicine, law, science and divinity, representing the four main schools of the university. Besides being beautiful it’s a fitting entry into library square, which is the location of the university’s main attractions. However students rarely walk beneath it, and this boils down to a good old-fashioned superstition. Apparently all universities have one. If you walk under as a student and the bells chime, you will never graduate from the college.
Once in library square the library lies to our right and the impressive Graduates Memorial Building to our left. I don’t think it can be entered though.
The library has existed since the inception of the university and the present building was opened in 1732. Due to the flood waters that have wreaked havoc over the centuries from the Liffey, the ground floor of the library was left empty and all the books kept on the top two floors. The Long Room holds over 200,000 of the oldest books, but as a legal deposit it is entitled to one copy of all books published in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Obviously not all books are kept on site nor do they take up their claim on each book. I can think of a few of these. I’ll come back to the library later.
The tour winds past the oldest dorms on college, which don’t have central heating nor internal showers so to take your morning showers you need to head outside and go to communal ones. Apparently these are the cheapest dorms in the university. God knows why.
The tour reaches its conclusion outside the museum building. This building hosts the Geology department and is perhaps the most impressive within the college. It was constructed in 1857 and influenced by the Venetian Byzantine style. The exterior is covered in motifs of flowers indigenous to Ireland, on a granite and limestone face. Upon cleaning it in 2013 the workers discovered some monkeys and a platypus amongst the wall sculptures. Apparently the sculptors got bored and snuck them in without anyone realising. The tour doesn’t take you within, but if you can, visit after as the main entrance hall is decorated in Byzantine exuberance with fantastic arches and pillars, an impressive stairs, and a dome made of blue, red and yellow enameled bricks.
Tom bid his thanks to us and set us on our way to the library. Having gotten our tickets already we were put in the fast track straight into the exhibit on Ireland’s mot famous book. It is joined by the Book of Durrow another famous book from Ireland’s golden age of scholars. But pride of place belongs to the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a transcription of the four books of the New Testament done in a most intricate style. The book was written and illustrated by monks on calf vellum in the ninth century first on the Scottish island of Iona before being taken to Kells in County Meath. The book found its way to Trinity after Cromwell’s offensive against monasteries in 1661 and has been here since. The vellum kept the book tough and helped it survive all the years. The book is now split in four with two on display, one section showing the intricate drawings that adorn the pages and the other the written text of the bibles. Its Irelands greatest treasure and probably the world’s finest medieval manuscript. No photographs are allowed of the books. The most famed page of the book is the opening of St Matthews Gospel or the Chi-Rho page below.
A stairs takes you from the darkened lower level to the very impressive Long Room of the Library. Set your face to wow as you enter. Shelf after shelf of bound books line the 65 metres of the room. The room has been expanded again and again and now boasts an oak panelled roof and book shelves from floor to ceiling. The curved ceiling stretches along the room and is entrancing. The books are organised by year but then subdivided by size with the biggest books on the bottom shelves and the smallest on the top ones. Tough job being a librarian there. The full length of the room is adorned with marble busts of philosophers and writers, with that of Jonathan Swift being the most renowned.
The Long Room contains one of the last remaining copies of the Irish proclamation which was signed and read in 1916 from the GPO. It also contains the Brian Boru harp which has become a symbol for the country. This oak and willow harp dates to the 15th century. It is the symbol on the back of coins minted in Ireland including the Euro. The same harp was also the inspiration for that most Irish of things, the logo of Guinness. Next time your drink a pint of the black stuff it will be staring back at you from the glass.
If the Long Room looks familiar to Star Wars fans it’s probably cause it formed the inspiration for the Jedi Library in Attack of the Clones. Lucas Film vehemently denied this but we all know better. Trinity decided to not make a big deal out of it, and you have to respect them for that.
Inevitably leaving the library lands you in a gift shop. The college can be further explored if you wish; in the summer months the zoological museum opens its doors and provides an exhibit on different creatures. Containing skeletal remains, slides on insects and some taxidermy, it’s a very hands on experience.
There are also alternating exhibits on art and science in the science gallery. These can be visited for free and information on the current exhibit can be found on the Trinity science gallery website.
I hope you enjoyed my guide to Trinity College, and please like, follow or share.
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