Trinity College, located in the heart of Dublin, is Ireland’s oldest university. It was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. The monarch wanted to create an institution in Ireland modeled after Oxford and Cambridge. The iconic university campus appears in movies and novels.
Trinity College looms large when I first encountered it during the Christmas season walking down Grafton Street, Dublin’s most prestigious shopping corridor. The university’s tall walls cannot be breached so it feels like a castle more than a college.
Architecture buffs will be drawn to the historic buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, and marble statues stationed on the green. (I also highly recommend touring 14 Henrietta Street, a townhouse-turned-tenement museum, and the James Joyce Centre.)
Rather than skirting the brick wall or simply walking under the ancient front arches and peeking into the green on my daily rambles in the city, I wanted to learn more about Trinity College’s most famous professors, students, and ghosts.
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Trinity College offers “Trinity Trails,” a 75-minute guided tour of the campus, seven days a week that includes access to the Old Library and Book of Kells. (Check out my video tour on Instagram.)
A ticket costs 29 euros for one adult or 65 euros for a family (two adults and two children). There is also a free self-guided tour. A campus-only tour costs 15 euros.
“Take an immersive guided walking tour through the rich cultural heritage of Trinity College Dublin. Learn about world famous alumni, discover ancient buildings and get an insight in to the cutting-edge innovations of Ireland’s leading University.”Trinity Tours
Trip Advisor Award
In my opinion, this is a must-see Dublin tour. In fact, Trip Advisor honored Trinity University with its 2022 Traveller’s Choice award. It is ranked #7 of 671 things to do in Dublin.
“This is an incredibly pretty school, the grounds and the architecture are amazing. I love beautiful old buildings, Trinity College has some incredible buildings inside and out.”Trip Advisor review
My guide was a former student who now works for the college. “Trinity College was exclusively Protestant until the 1970s. It used to be an old Augustinian monastery. You can still see evidence today. The remains of the monastery are below ground,” she explained.
The average age of university buildings ranges from 1780 to 1790. The style is Georgian architecture. But the “oldest” buildings date back to 1702.
For the first three centuries, only male students could enroll at Dublin University All this changed in January 1904 when Marion Weir Johnston, Averina Shegog, and Ellen Tuckey entered Dublin College. They were given full academic status. (We would learn more about a provost who resisted any female student matriculating at Trinity University during our tour!)
We learned that students attend “Commons,” which is the dinner meal, which begins precisely at 6:15 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m. Dining is limited to 45 minutes. “You must eat fast,” laughed the guide. Students can also order Guinness beer with this meal because “the Guinness family is a big patron of the university.” In fact, the portrait of the Earl of Guinness hangs in the building.
Trinity College is home to the oldest student societies, including a philosophical society and a historical society. But the former hasn’t run continuously since it was temporarily disbanded due to student hijinks. “The 1730s were a rough decade for the university. There was a strong Jacobite faction James on the throne,” said the guide.
Trinity College Ghost
In fact, drunk students murdered Edward Ford (former student and fellow) in 1734 in Building 25. He lived in the Rubrics, which is Trinity’s oldest building. Ford was disliked by students as “obstinate and ill-judging man” and interfered with student affairs.
The drunk students threw bricks up at his window during the cover of the night. He whipped out a pistol and shot at them through the broken window pane. They returned later with firearms and shot him. He died two hours later.
“It is believed that Ford’s ghost still lingers at his old residency, and he is said to wander around the Rubrics, dressed in wig, gown, and knee breeches.”Trinity News
His ghost reportedly still stalks the hallways of the student dormitory around the doorway of 25. “There are reports of shadowy figures walking the halls. Four students were charged with murder but the judge threw it out. Students told different stories. The university expelled the four students. Students say the room is haunted.”
Haunted Bell Tower
The dormitories aren’t the only place haunted. Students also avoid the university’s Bell Tower (known as the Campanile). It was built in 1852. The legend is a student will fail all their exams if they walk underneath the Campanile as the bell tolls within the tower.
Since the bell rings at irregular intervals, there is no guarantee that a student won’t get caught. “You don’t see students walk under the Bell Tower. They’ll fail all their exams if the bell rings. But students will run under when they graduate,” said the guide. It is considered a mark of triumph over the Curse of the Campanile.
(Hint: You can visit college green without paying for a tour if you want to take an Instagram photo.)
There is one loophole. If the student can reach Provost George Salmon’s statue before the bell stops ringing and touch his foot, he is saved.
Interestingly, Salmon is the provost who refused to let women matriculate at Dublin College. He vowed no woman would ever study at Trinity. But despite his opposition to female students, women students began attending Dublin College in 1904.
“He did great things for the university. He famously said ‘under my dead body will a woman attend this college.’ On the day he died, the first women students entered Dublin University,” said our guide.
Apparently, Salmon is quite famous with current female students who like to show him up. “On graduation day, women line up to take their picture with him,” she added.
Museum Building (Exterior)
I realized that Trinity College is truly a “living museum” when our guide took us to see the Museum Building. You don’t want to miss this structure which is a virtual zoo! We went on a “visual scavenger hunt” trying to identify the sculptures of animals that perched on the structure.
Home to the Geology Department for over 160 years, this Museum Building was built between 1853-1857. Architects Thomas Deane and Benjamin Woodward designed it. Their inspiration was Venice’s Byzantine architecture.
The architects used multiple and contrasting forms of marble, including Calp Limestone and faced with Ballyknockan granite (exterior walls), Portland stone from Dorset (quoins, columns and capitals), and Caen stone from France (tympanum). The college crest sits above the heavy wooden door.
It was no surprise to me when I learned the exterior amounted to just under half the cost for the entire building.
I was amazed by the intricate exterior carvings of florals and animals on the building. In fact, John and James O’Shea used fresh flowers to carve their floral leaves and flowers.
We stood several minutes outside the building trying to identify where the O’Shea brothers hid the animals.
“The building is like an Aesop fable,” declared the guide. “You’ll see sculptures of cats, monkeys, and foxes.”
Museum Building (Interior)
The fantastical architecture continues inside the Museum Building. I discovered a dinosaur skulking in the lobby. (This building reminded me of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC. It was also constructed in the 1850s. The Norman Revival style of architecture.)
When you enter the main entrance hall, you step back into the Victorian age. There are large (Irish) marble pillars, balustrades, and banisters.
The domed roof features blue, red, and yellow enameled bricks. At the end of the hall, students and professors must climb two sweeping marble staircases to get to the second floor. Their voices bounce off the canyon-like space.
“This elaborate and much-celebrated historical building is central to Trinity’s campus, a focal point for all students, and represents Geology’s long and rich academic history.”Trinity College
After leaving Deane’s Museum Building, our group meanders down to the Rose Garden. What a lovely place where students can escape after classes or exams.
While the rose might be considered special property of Britain, poet William Butler Yeats often incorporated the rose as a symbol for Ireland.
“Red rose, proud rose…Rose of all my days!”William Butler Yeats
Interestingly, the black rose was a code word for Ireland since English law banned reference to Ireland as a nation.
The green space features benches as well as a velvet lawn for lounging. (Hint: Visitors can also avail themselves of this rest stop since the entrance to Trinity University’s courtyard is free.)
There is also the option of paying 5 euros to listen to a tour guide on a Trinity University app. It is billed as “perfect for the independent traveler, who wants to experience Trinity’s rich culture and heritage at their own pace.”
This tour features 14 “points of interest” across the campus. It includes a virtual tour, virtual artifacts, and audio commentary by subject matter experts. The Visit Trinity App can be downloaded in the App Store and on Google Play.