Trinity College

sights / Architecture

Trinity College information

Dublin , Ireland
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On a summer's evening, when the bustling crowds have gone for the day, there's hardly a more delightful place in Dublin than the grounds of Ireland's most prestigious university , a masterpiece of architecture and landscaping beautifully preserved in Georgian aspic. Not only is this Dublin's most attractive bit of historic real estate, but it's also home to one of the world's most famous – and most beautiful – books, the gloriously illuminated Book of Kells. There is no charge to wander around the gardens on your own between 8am and 10pm.

Officially, the university's name is the University of Dublin, but Trinity is its sole college. Its charter was granted by Elizabeth I in 1592 – on grounds confiscated from an Augustinian priory that was dissolved in 1537 – with the hope that young Dubliners would desist from skipping across to Continental Europe for their education and becoming 'infected with popery'. The 16- hectare site is now in the centre of the city, but when it was founded it was described as 'near Dublin' and was bordered on two sides by the estuary of the River Liffey. Nothing now remains of the original Elizabethan college, which was replaced in the Georgian building frenzy of the 18th century. The most significant change, however, is the student population: the university was exclusively Protestant until 1793, but today most of its 17,000-odd students are Catholic (although until 1970 their own church forbade them from attending on pain of excommunication). All of this would surely have horrified Archbishop Ussher, one of the college's founders, whose greatest scientific feat was the precise dating of the act of creation to 4004 BC. (Darwin, Schmarwin.)

Facing College Green, the Front Gate (Regent House entrance) to the college grounds was built between 1752 and 1759 and is guarded by statues of the poet Oliver Goldsmith (1730–74) and the orator Edmund Burke (1729–97). The summer walking tours of the college depart from here.

The open area reached from Regent House is divided into Front Sq, Parliament Sq and Library Sq. The area is dominated by the 30m-high Campanile , designed by Charles Lanyon and erected between 1852 and 1853 on what was believed to be the centre of the monastery that preceded the college. To the north of the Campanile is a statue of George Salmon, college provost from 1888 to 1904, who fought bitterly to keep women out of the college. He carried out his threat to permit them 'over my dead body' by promptly dropping dead when the worst came to pass.

Clockwise round Front Sq from the Front Gate, the first building is the chapel (Front Sq), built in 1798 to plans made in 1777 by the architect Sir William Chambers (1723–96) and, since 1972, open to all denominations. It's noted for its extremely fine plasterwork by Michael Stapleton, its Ionic columns and its painted (rather than stained-glass) windows. The main window is dedicated to Archbishop Ussher.

Next to the chapel is the dining hall (Parliament Sq), originally designed in 1743 by Richard Cassels (aka Castle) but dismantled 15 years later because of problems caused by inadequate foundations. The replacement was completed in 1761 and may have retained some elements of the original design. It was extensively restored after a fire in 1984.

The 1892 Graduates' Memorial Building forms the northern side of Library Sq. North of it are tennis courts in the open area known as Botany Bay. The legend behind this name is that the unruly students housed around the square were suitable candidates for the British penal colony at Botany Bay in Australia.

At the eastern side of Library Sq, the red-brick Rubrics Building dates from around 1690, making it the oldest building in the college. It was extensively altered in an 1894 restoration and then underwent major structural modifications in the 1970s.

To the south of the square is the Old Library , built in a rather severe style by Thomas Burgh between 1712 and 1732. Despite Ireland's independence, the Library Act of 1801 still entitles Trinity College Library, along with four libraries in Britain, to a free copy of every book published in the UK. Housing this bounty requires nearly another 1km of shelving every year and the collection amounts to around 4.5 million books. Of course, these cannot all be kept at the college library, so there are now additional library storage facilities dotted around Dublin.

Trinity's greatest treasures are kept in the Old Library's stunning 65m Long Room , which houses about 250,000 of the library's oldest volumes, including the breathtaking Book of Kells . Your entry ticket includes admission to temporary exhibitions on display in the East Pavilion. The ground-floor Colonnades was originally an open arcade, but was enclosed in 1892 to increase the storage area. A previous attempt to increase the room's storage capacity had been made in 1853, when the Long Room ceiling was raised. Other displays include a rare copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which was read out by Pádraig Pearse at the beginning of the Easter Rising in 1916. Also here is the so-called harp of Brian Ború , which was definitely not in use when the army of this early Irish hero defeated the Danes at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. It does, however, date from around 1400, making it one of the oldest harps in Ireland.

Continuing clockwise around the Campanile, there's the 1937 Reading Room and the Exam Hall (Public Theatre), which dates from 1779 to 1791. Like the chapel, it was the work of William Chambers and also has plasterwork by Michael Stapleton. The Exam Hall has an oak chandelier rescued from the Houses of Parliament (now the Bank of Ireland) across College Green, and an organ supposedly salvaged from a Spanish ship in 1702, though evidence indicates otherwise.

Behind the Exam Hall is the 1760 Provost's House , a very fine Georgian house where the provost (college head) still resides. The house and its adjacent garden are not open to the public.

To one side of the Old Library is Paul Koralek's 1967 Berkeley Library . This solid, square, brutalist-style building has been hailed as the best example of modern architecture in Ireland, though it has to be admitted the competition isn't great. It's fronted by Arnaldo Pomodoro's 1982 sculpture Sphere Within Sphere . George Berkeley was born in Kilkenny in 1685, studied at Trinity when he was only 15 years old and went on to a distinguished career in many fields, particularly philosophy. His influence spread to the new colonies in North America where, among other things, he helped to found the University of Pennsylvania. Berkeley, California, and its namesake university are named after him.

South of the Old Library is the 1978 Arts & Social Science Building , which backs on to Nassau St and forms the alternative entrance to the college. Like the Berkeley Library, it was designed by Paul Koralek; it also houses the Douglas Hyde Gallery of Modern Art .

Trinity's newest attraction is the Science Gallery , a refreshingly lively and informative exploration of the relationship between science, art and the world we live in. Past exhibits have touched on a range of fascinating topics, including how memory works and how humans may evolve in the future. The ground-floor Flux Café, bathed in floor-to-ceiling light, is a pretty good spot to take a load off.

Behind the Rubrics Building, at the eastern end of Library Sq, is New Sq. The highly ornate Victorian Museum Building , built from 1853 to 1857, has the skeletons of two enormous Giant Deer just inside the entrance, and the Geological Museum upstairs.

The 1734 Printing House , designed by Richard Cassels to resemble a Doric temple, and now used for the microelectronics and electrical engineering departments, is on the northern side of New Sq.

At the eastern end of the college grounds are the rugby ground and College Park, where cricket is played. There are a number of science buildings here also. The Lincoln Place Gate at this end is usually open and makes a good entrance or exit from the college, especially if you're on a bicycle.