Last month I was at a meeting in the University of Maryland Library, and for some reason, the meeting room was absolutely freezing, so during a coffee break I took a walk round the shelves to try and warm up.
For some reason my eye was caught by ‘Trinity Tales’, a set of stories cum reminiscences about life in Trinity College, Dublin, in the sixties. I have a weakness for tales of university life, perhaps because I’ve spent most of my working life in one, so I ended up ordering a second hand copy through AbeBooks.
I’ve never been to Trinity, and my knowledge of the place is confined to that gleaned from living for six months in a share house with two girls, one of whom I lusted after ineffectually, who had graduated from Trinity at the end of the seventies. In fact the nearest I’ve ever been to working at a university in Ireland was having a job interview at QUB in the early eighties, which was quite surreal. It looked sort of like Scotland, it sounded sort of like Scotland, but instead was this strange paranoid place with a constant background of armed police and armoured cars.
I digress. During the six months sharing a house in Hull Anne and Bridget told me tales of the English faculty, some strangely bizarre, and of life at Trinity and in Dublin, making it sound a strange exotic and somewhat louche place. The place portrayed in Trinity Tales is not the same place in Anne and Bridget’s stories, which was most definitely an Irish place rather than an Anglo-Irish university, but the loucheness is definitely there.
Trinity in the sixties emerges as a sort of anglo bubble, populated by mildly pretentious arty people with a background chorus of hooray henries and other Oxbridge rejects. No real mention of scientists, medics, or students from the north of Ireland, or indeed many from the Republic, although to be fair the sixties was still a time in which Catholics needed a special dispensation to study at Trinity. Most of the stories also date from the earlier part of the sixties from a time before the Troubles, so perhaps they can be forgiven their political disconnection.
In short Trinity resembled St Andrews in the seventies, a small isolated bubble which provided a stage for various personalities to stride and posture and establish themselves. In a small community such things are marked, and in a larger one unnoticed in the main.
It’s also true that like St Andrews, Trinity appears to have attracted more than its fair share of personalities, because it wasn’t quite mainstream.
Did I like the book? Yes, for its portrait of a now vanished world of university oddness and eccentricity, but at the time and in the flesh I might have been irritated both by it and them, which in retrospect would have been unfair as, while life is not a dress rehearsal, university is …