Sunday, July 25, 2010

Trinity College

By Claire
Up early, as usual, we enjoyed a leisurely morning before hopping on the shuttle bus into Dublin. The bus driver kindly let us off at a corner where we could run the rest of the way and possibly make the 10:15 tour of Trinity College. We made it with seconds to spare.

For €10 each, which included the admission price to see the Book of Kells (€9 on its own), we had the time of our lives. James was funny, irreverent and very informative. He's one of the student guides who give a dozen tours a day and I think we lucked out. We loved him.

It's a fast tour, only 30 minutes, but it was perfect. The campus is beautiful, even under gray skies, and we enjoyed the history and the stories. James has passed all his examinations and will graduate in November.

Regent House

Trinity College was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university." It is Ireland's oldest university. Students are admitted tuition free; applicants have to compete for university places solely on the basis of the results of their end of school exams. In fact, when they apply they are identified only by number; so wealth, connection, and social status count for nothing. At graduation, they are called to walk across the stage according to their class rank rather than alphabetically. This is a strong incentive to study hard and prepare well.

We started in front of the campanile where we learned about the various buildings. One dorm houses only students who speak Gaelic.


In one of the five large squares he pointed out the native to Oregon, Canadian Maple. It grows well here because the square is on marsh land, it is protected from wind all around by buildings, and they "get a bit of rain."

This is a statue of former provost George Salmon who completely opposed allowing women students at Trinity. He said there was no room for women and their ironing boards. In fact, in 1904 he swore they would only be allowed admission "over his dead body." Four days later he died of a massive heart attack and the next provost's first order of business was to allow women students.

James told us about housing for students. It's extremely difficult to score rooms but if you do, the worst one is the Rubrics Building. It has no central heating and no insulation. On top of that, the bathrooms are on the bottom floor and reached from outside through the blue door. The college's only scandal took place in this building. Edward Ford, one of the teachers, was highly disliked by most of the students and faculty. Someone had broken into his rooms so he kept a gun at hand to protect himself. On the night of March 6, 1734, as a prank, 4 very drunk students decided to annoy him by throwing rocks at his window, hoping to break it. He furiously told them to leave. They did not. He yelled at them again and then pulled his gun. They ran off, only to retrieve their own guns. A shoot out between the teacher and the students commenced. Edward Ford was killed, the students arrested and expelled, but found innocent because the judge felt it was just a student prank and an accident. Guns were no longer allowed on campus after this incident.

James' building was in the new square, quite large with big windows, central heat, bathrooms on every floor and a view of the square and the "losers in Rubrics."

Bram Stoker lived in this building. Other notable alumni in the fields of arts and sciences include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Dominic West (Actor), Samuel Beckett (Nobel Laureate in Literature), Ernest Walton (Nobel Laureate in Physics) and three holders of the office of President of Ireland, two of them women.

There are new buildings mixed with the old; this one is hugely disliked and referred to as the "copy machine building". I did like the sculpture in front, Sphere Within Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro. There are a number of these scattered throughout Europe.

Copy Machine Building

Fellows Square

Graduates' Memorial Building

Our tour ended at the Library where we could see the display of Irish medieval gospel manuscripts; the most famous, of course, is the Book of Kells. This illuminated (illustrated) version of gospels was written over 1,000 years ago when Ireland had a population of less than half a million people living in fortified homesteads along its coasts and inland waterways.

The life of Christ was spread primarily through gospel books, and the scribes and artists who produced them held an honored place in Irish society. The Book of Kells contains lavishly decorated copy, in Latin, of the four gospels. It has long been associated with St. Colum Cille (c 521-597 A.D.) who founded his principal monastery on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, in about 561. The Book of Kells was probably produced early in the 9th century by the monks of Iona, working wholly or partially at Iona itself or at Kells, county Meath, where they moved after 806 A.D.

It was fairly crowded; but I worked my way through the exhibit to the display. This was somewhat disappointing only because the manner in which it was displayed was frustrating. People were crowded around the large glass top table, moving in different directions. I was moving along with the crowd around the table, looking at the displays until I came up against a woman moving in the opposite direction. Stepping away meant losing my place and no one was letting anyone in. I can't stand the pushing and shoving that occurs in these situations. It would be nice if they could have displayed the articles in a long table with a one way direction. They managed this just fine for the Crown Jewels at Edinburgh Castle.

My favorite part of the library was the Long Room. 65 meters long and holding 200,000 of the Library's oldest books, it was simply awesome. There were many displays down the middle of the room with very steep bookshelves on either side. Irish-Indian relationships were highlighted in the current exhibition. One book on display--by Eamon De Valera, the first President of Ireland, advises Mahatma Gandhi of his options in taking on the British in India.

Long Room--no photos allowed, picture found online.

We left Trinity and walked to Merrion Square, a beautiful and very green park with meandering paths and lots of benches. It even had some flowers. My favorite was the statue of Oscar Wilde.

Can you find the forty colors of green?

We wandered some more, found a cheap place to grab a sandwich, then found the public bus stop for my return home. Chuck wanted to see the National Museum and I was ready to leave. One thing we have noticed about Dublin, it is a young city. There is a great nightlife here and plenty of backpackers around to enjoy it.


I went to the National Gallery, waiting for the National Museum to open: it was Sunday, and the times are somewhat restricted. I viewed selected works of Jack Yeats, W.B.'s painting brother. Prior to coming to Ireland, I did not know he had any siblings. Sadly, the National Library is closed on Sunday; so, I could not visit it. I wandered into the museum, only to find that there are four branches and I was in the Natural History building of the National Museum; I quickly left, since it was now after 2pm and the Archeology and History branch was now open--around the block. The most exciting artifact was the famous eighth century gold, enamel and amber Tara Brooch. I was impressed by the 15+meter unfinished dugout canoe--one of the world's longest. I enjoyed the exhibit on bogs and some of the famous well-preserved "bogmen." I was much surprised to discover that not all bogs are alike--the two sorts described in Ireland are raised and blanket. The reason they do such a good job of preserving things is that there is no oxygen in their "mud," tannic acid is present and bacteria cannot break the organic material down. I was greatly relieved to finally be able to sit down and watch a "filim" (that's Irish for 'film') describing the Viking influence on Ireland. I was particularly delighted to catch the recap of the Rock of Cashel; they were able to capture some of the artistic and architectural detail that you cannot see with the bare eye--we always seem to forget our single remaining (unstolen) binoculars.

National Museum of Archeology and History

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. ~ Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892, Act I


Carol said...

Must be the academic in me. I really enjoyed learning about the college and that was cool that you got to see the bogmen Chuck. Loved the Long Library and all the ancient books. Reminded me of the Huntington Library in S. CA that has one of the original Canteberry Tales (on display in a special case, and a page is turned each day) and an incredible ancient book collection.

Karin said...

I admit to being very excited to see the Book of Kells, and once inside to look being slightly disappointed. I did not know it was dimly lit and temperature controlled and that you only could see a page a day. And it was a bit hard to work my way up to the enclosed Book. However, it truly is magnificent....such a wonderful relic of the past. The patience the monks had - well in today's world it would not be a work of love. No one would do it....

Yah, I love printers...but the real think can't be beat!

Great you went to Trinity. Very beautiful place.....

Karin on Paros