Ireland’s most prestigious university is a bucolic retreat in the heart of the city that puts one in mind of the great universities like Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard. Just ambling about its cobbled squares it’s easy to imagine it in those far-off days when all good gentlemen (for they were only men) came equipped with a passion for philosophy and a love of empire. The student body is a lot more diverse these days, even if the look remains the same.
Elizabeth I’s bulwark against the ‘infection of popery’ was established in 1592 on the grounds of a confiscated Augustinian monastery. Its target demographic were young Protestant Dubliners who were choosing universities in France and Italy – and so risking conversion to Roman Catholicism. Despite its overtly sectarian origins, Trinity became one of the world’s outstanding centres of learning, the alma mater of Swift, Wilde, Beckett and a host of other important names such as Berkeley, Lecky and Walton.
It remained completely Protestant until 1793, but even when the university relented and began to admit Catholics, the Catholic Church held firm; until 1970, any Catholic who enrolled here could consider themselves excommunicated.
The campus is a masterpiece of architecture and landscaping beautifully preserved in Georgian aspic. Most of the buildings and statues date from the 18th and 19th centuries, each elegantly laid out on a cobbled or grassy square. The newer bits include the 1978 Arts & Social Science Building, which backs on to Nassau St and forms the alternative entrance to the college. Like the college's Berkeley Library, it was designed by Paul Koralek; it houses the Douglas Hyde Gallery of Modern Art.
A great way to see the grounds is on a walking tour, which depart from the Regent House entrance on College Green.