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Ireland’s most prestigious university is a 16th-century bucolic retreat in the heart of the city. 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 until 1904) 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 was 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 Berkeley Library, it was designed by Paul Koralek; it houses the Douglas Hyde Gallery of Modern Art. The college's greatest treasures, however, are housed within the Old Library, facing the Arts & Social Science Building, which usually has a long line of visitors waiting to get in to take a peek at the Book of Kells and the Long Room.
A great way to see the grounds is on a walking tour, departing from the Regent House entrance on College Green. On sunny days, head to the campus bar on the cricket grounds to lounge around with a cold can of beer.