The origin of Trinity College Dublin

Trinity CollegeIf you find yourself in Dublin on your tour of Ireland we at Ireland Luxury Tours recommend that you visit Trinity College. It was founded just before the Tudor monarchy had completed the task of extending its authority over the whole of Ireland. The idea of an Irish university had been in the air for some time, and in 1592 a small group of Dublin citizens obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth incorporating Trinity College juxta Dublin. The Corporation of Dublin granted to the new foundation the lands and dilapidated buildings of the monastery of All Hallows, lying about a quarter of a mile south-east of the city walls. Two years later a few Fellows and students began to work in the new College, which then consisted of one small square. During the next fifty years the community increased. Endowments, including considerable landed estates, were secured, new fellowships were founded, the books which formed the beginning of the great library were acquired, a curriculum was devised and statutes were framed.

The second half-century of the College’s history was a time of turmoil, marked in Ireland by an interregnum and two civil wars. In 1641 the Provost fled, and two years later the College had to pawn its plate; some Fellows were expelled by the Commonwealth authorities, others were excluded at the Restoration, and in 1689 all the Fellows and students were expelled when the College was turned into a barrack for the soldiers of James II. But the seventeenth century was also an age of ardent learning; and Trinity men such as Ussher, a kindly polymath, Marsh, the orientalist, Dodwell, the historian, Stearne, who founded the Irish College of Physicians, and Molyneux, the correspondent of Locke, were typical of the adventurous and wide-ranging scholarship of their day.

The eighteenth century was for the most part a peaceful era in Ireland, and Trinity shared its calm, though at the beginning of the period a few Jacobites and at its end a very small group of political radicals seriously perturbed the College authorities. During this century Trinity was the university of the Protestant ascendancy. Parliament, meeting on the other side of College Green, viewed it benevolently and made generous grants for building. The first building of the new age was the Library, begun in 1712; then followed the Printing House and the Dining Hall; and during the second half of the century Parliament Square slowly emerged. The great building drive was completed in the early nineteenth century by Botany Bay, the square which derives its name in part from the herb garden it once contained.

These buildings expressed the ordered vigour of the College’s life. Unlike the English universities Trinity took its duties seriously. The Fellows were hard-worked, both as teachers and administrators. The curriculum was kept up-to-date, there were quarterly examinations at which prizes were granted to successful candidates, and the fellowship examination was a Homeric contest. Most of the outstanding Irishmen of the eighteenth century, including Swift, Berkeley, Burke, Goldsmith, Grattan and Tone, were Trinity graduates, and the influence of their university is discernible in their writings and speeches.

Three of the eighteenth century provosts were outstanding. Richard Baldwin (1717-58) was a strong disciplinarian who strove to prevent the boisterous high spirits that characterised contemporary Anglo-Irish society from playing havoc with academic peace. His successor, Francis Andrews (1758-74), was a member of parliament and a widely travelled and popular man of the world, whose taste and social ambitions are reflected in the Provost’s House, erected in 1759. He provided in his will for the foundation of a chair of astronomy and an observatory. He was succeeded by John Hely-Hutchinson (1774-94), a barrister and an enlightened if self-interested politician. Eager to widen the curriculum, he was responsible for the foundation of chairs of modern languages, and he pushed forward the eighteenth century building programme. His sometimes not over-scrupulous approach to College problems involved him in wrangles with many of the Fellows, and his provostship is the Dublin equivalent of Bentley’s stormy and litigious mastership of Trinity, Cambridge.

Visit the Trinity College website for a complete history and some fascinating facts and information.