Trinity College Dublin: Ireland’s Oldest University

Es la universidad más antigua y prestigiosa de Irlanda y un importante centro de investigación de renombre internacional. Sin embargo, también es una popular atracción turística, que alberga una enorme biblioteca con una excelente colección de artefactos raros, incluyendo el extraordinario Libro de Kells.

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Sarah Davison

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Trinity College Dublin

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In the heart of Dublin, Ireland’s capital city, is one of the world’s most prestigious universities: Trinity College Dublin. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity is Ireland’s oldest surviving university. It has about 18,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students enrolled in its more than six hundred courses, which cover all the major disciplines in the arts and humanities, and in business, law, engineering, science and health sciences. Trinity is also an international centre for research and home to Ireland’s biggest library, which has over six million printed volumes and includes extensive collections of journals, manuscripts, maps and music, reflecting over four hundred years of academic development.

Trinity is not just a place to work, research and study, however; it is also one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions. Around two million people a year visit the campus, which is an oasis of calm in the middle of a busy urban environment, and is renowned for its beautiful Georgian architecture and symmetrical design. Some half a million visitors visit the on-campus library to view rare artefacts, such as the medieval harp that the emblem of Ireland is based on, and the ancient Book of Kells.

To find out more, Speak Up met with Tom Molloy, director of public affairs and communications at Trinity College Dublin. He began by telling us that it is in many ways a very fortunate university:

Tom Molloy (English accent): I think what’s very interesting about Trinity is not the past and not the beauty but the fact that it’s bang in the centre of Dublin. There are very few top-ranked universities that are bang in the centre of capital cities, and Dublin itself has become a very interesting city,I think, in a European context. I suppose it’s the biggest English-speaking city in the European Union now that Britain has left? And it’s very vibrant economically, socially, ecologically, so to be in the centre of the city, Trinity starts with great good fortune. It’s [a] calm, peaceful oasis, fifty-plus acres, bang in the centre. It’s an old-fashioned university in this sense, that it teaches every subject except for veterinary [science] and architecture, for kind of peculiar reasons. But it’s not a scientific university or an arts and humanities university, as you often see in the US. It goes across the spectrum.


And the university has an international reputation for excellence in research, as Molloy explains.

Tom Molloy: It’s Ireland’s biggest research centre, and that’s its raison d’être: to teach and to research. We benchmark these things and we think we’re about fourth in Europe per capita in terms of research. In some universities, you either research or you teach. Here, you’re very likely to be taught by people who are absolutely at the top of their game, people who have world-class reputations.


Trinity is particularly well known for its former students’ contribution to literature.

Tom Molloy: There have been many, many Trinity writers… Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula… Samuel Beckett is another arts student, Nobel Prize winner, and very much a Trinity man, I think, very typical of a Trinity graduate, in that he’s the only Nobel Prize winner who also played international cricket and who was in the French Resistance. Somebody who had a lot of interests. And Trinity always prides itself on producing graduates who are what we call ‘T-shaped’, that are both broad and deep.

And I think it’s fair to say that Beckett, with his interest in modernity and the past —he was interested in languages and experimentation, his personal bravery and so on—, you would like to think was a very typical graduate. Other graduates that people point to are people like Oscar Wilde. A kind of  interesting thing I think about Oscar Wilde is that when he was tried for homosexuality, the lawyer on the other side, the prosecution lawyer, was also a Trinity graduate. This was all happening in London.


But distinguished alumni also include world-renowned scientists, says Molloy.

Tom Molloy: Also in the sciences, there have been many graduates. William Rowan Hamilton is one who springs to mind. He was a 19th-century mathematician who famously had an idea when he was crossing a bridge in Dublin and scribbled down the formula that he had been thinking about on the bridge. And that was a formula for a thing called ‘quaternions’, which are a part of the physics universe, and in fact, it would have been impossible to put a man on the Moon without this discovery.


Visitors to Dublin are drawn to Trinity. Molloy suggests why. 

Tom Molloy: I’d suppose what draws a lot of people to Trinity is that the main squares are a classic statement of the Enlightenment dream. There’s a huge amount of symmetry. It is one of those places, a bit like the Mall in Washington, where you just know that these great 18th-century minds have laboured and laboured and laboured, and created something that just works in that neo-classical style. 


And one of its greatest attractions is its magnificent Old Library.

Tom Molloy: The other thing that a million people a year come and look at is Trinity’s Old Library, which is a huge, dark oak-built library that contains about 250,000 volumes. It has the Book of Kells, which is an ancient manuscript, a version of the Bible transcribed by monks about one and a half thousand years ago. And it’s a truly kind of astonishing work. You need a microscope to see the detail.


Among the library’s most beautiful treasures is the harp. 

Tom Molloy: There are other things in the Old Library, such as  the harp that all Irish government emblems are based on. There’s an official harp and that’s the harp. It’s a good thousand years old and it’s a lovely artefact in its own right.

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