The misadventures of first-time attendees of Trinity Ball

From alcohol and drugs to grime music and the cold weather, Alice Whelan speaks to a number of students about their past Trinity Ball experiences

Illustration: Jenny Corcoran

It is no mean feat for every stereotype of middle-class students to be fulfilled in one night. Love it or hate it, this private black-tie event held on campus is part and parcel of the spirit of Trinity.

Criticism tends to centre on the lineup, and then on the price. Granted, it’s hard to keep the student body of Trinity satisfied when it comes to musical fare. Each student likes to consider themselves to possess a unique percipience when it comes to musical taste. Reassuringly, especially for first time Ballers, it will not matter much who is playing. It will be loud noises, interspersed with a song or two you actually recognise.

Certainly, the price is high for a one-night affair. This year’s outrage was caused by the additional cost of seven euro, which has since been restored to us. The cost of purchasing a suit or dress for the occasion, plus whatever materials are needed to become inebriated, make the night expensive for students.

But what makes Trinity Ball worth it? For many, it is a high point in the year. The chance to experience campus by night, ethereal and awash with tuxedo-clad young men and glitter-faced young women, is not one to be missed out on. The novelty of the night is heightened by the chance to be intoxicated on campus outside the vicinity of the Pav.

Last year, a writer from the esteemed publication Vice described Trinity Ball as “a fantasy realm where everyone gurns, and a guy called Daithí plays violin over mixes of Hollaback Girl”. If Vice’s judgment of proceedings is correct, we can now begin to understand the enduring appeal of this opulent event.

Speaking to some students on their first immersion into the Trinity Ball experience, the misadventures that can alter the course of the night for a young first year tottering into their first Trinity Ball become clear. Should you take heed of their advice, there is no reason why you can’t have a night that isn’t “seven hours of dinner jacket hedonism in an environment that looks like V Festival went to Hogwarts”.

A Nap in the Medical Tent

For an impressionable first year, pre-Trinity Ball fever spreads quickly. “As a first year, my expectations were based off what I’d heard from older students and the elaborate stories of their experiences. ‘A festival on campus’ was the description that cropped up the most.” Like most other first years, Emily was one student who had heard varying tales, which added to the mystery surrounding the night.

Emily had an unfortunate encounter with alcohol which changed the course of her night entirely. “I was a classic case of someone who drank more than they could handle and had to be taken care of for the entire night.” In her situation, she fortunately had friends that were willing to stay with her, but this is not always the case. “Two of my friends tried to look after me and sober me up, but I kept collapsing onto the ground, unable to hold myself up. But I don’t remember any of this”.

As often happens, the night can be pieced together using accounts from others. Emily’s friends recalled to her the sequence of events. “[My friends] told me they approached medics, who immediately asked what drugs I’d taken. I actually hadn’t taken anything, so they weren’t interested and said I wasn’t their responsibility.” Trinity Ball is rather notorious for drug use and with many students arguably overdoing it, the medical services dedicate a huge amount of resources to responding to this.

Once Emily was assessed visually it became clear she was in need of assistance. “But then they actually saw me. Within minutes I was being brought across Front Square in a wheelchair right after being sick several times”.

The rest of the night was spent in care of medical professionals, missing the greater part of the Ball itself. “I was kept in the medical tent set up in Áras an Phiarsaigh from 11.30pm until 3.30am, which is when I woke up. I thought I was in hospital. All of the staff knew my name, and quickly told me not to look in the mirror in case I got a fright.”

Emily did get to see a few acts in the end, though needless to say, it wasn’t quite the same. “I ended up missing all of the headliners, which shouldn’t have been a big deal considering the circumstances, but I was really quite disappointed. It wasn’t ideal.” But despite her ordeal, she admits that “it was almost worth it in that everyone laughs so much at that story now. It’s one of ‘those’ stories”, though she also admits to feeling ashamed about what had happened. “I was ashamed that I’d become that drunken person causing a scene, but it was primarily due to my ignorance of how increasingly susceptible I was getting drunk due to other health factors. It was naive.”

Not everyone views the hedonistic activity in an entirely positive light and Emily noted the arguably unsafe nature of some of the extreme proceedings. “Many of my close friends took their first pills at Trinity Ball and that surprised me at first. I met them when I left the medical tent. It’s such a weird event to host, given how many people are drunk or on drugs, and I’m curious as to how much longer this can possibly continue.” She then commented that “it seems inevitable that someone will eventually go too far, with serious and perhaps even fatal consequences”.

Experimentation with drugs

Speaking to another student about their first Trinity Ball, Zara explains how she was a first year living in Halls at the time and originally had mixed expectations. “I honestly did not know what to expect Trinity Ball to be like. I had heard stories from some arguing it would be the best night of the year, if not my life. Others gave me a ‘meh’ description of it.”

The pre-Ball bonding time is often some people’s clearest memory. “Pres were in Halls, where an excessive amount of students piled into my friends’ apartment. Everyone was drinking and things got loud. I have happy memories of being with my friends from my course, all dressed in our finery, and the pictures we have remind me of the fun and excitement there was in going to the Ball. The trip on the Luas with I would say a hundred others all dressed to the nines and chanting was also memorable.”

“Arriving at Trinity was quite a sight as everyone looked quite overdressed eating McDonalds and queuing in the rain in fancy dresses. I had cut my legs while shaving earlier and blood ran down my legs mixed with my Sally Hansen tan. It was not a look I would recommend.”

For many, the Ball seems a ripe opportunity to experiment with drugs, as open drug-taking is commonplace at the event. Zara explains: “I naively had been expecting some kind of security inspection and so had hidden drugs and alcohol on my person; however my bag was not even checked. Once inside, I took a pill with a friend. It would be my first time taking drugs.”

Zara’s memory of the Ball coincides with that of Vice in certain ways: “I did not really know where I was but it didn’t matter I was vibing. I recall being at an act I didn’t know at the time (Daithí). I was really enjoying the cover of Hollaback Girl and I looked up and ‘Oh my god he was playing a violin as well as DJing?’ I stared for a long time. It may as well have been an alien tap dancing on stage this was completely mind-boggling to me.”

The grime element of Trinity Ball last year, which will be maintained for this year’s event, appears to be a big draw: “[Last year] the highlight was Stormzy, I was up the front with my friend and able to mosh. My legs were completely trampled.”

As you would expect for one of the biggest events on Trinity’s calendar, outfit planning is a must. Many first-timers fail to realise just how cold it tends to be so late at night. “Stupidly, I had worn only a short, strapless dress and a bomber jacket with no tights. The dress fell down all night and I was freezing by the end. As I came down during Gorgon City, I realised everyone actually looked quite the worse for wear at this point, disheveled and with their makeup streaking.”

For Zara, the Ball was a worthwhile experience. “It was funny to see everyone in a different state. However I did feel anxious at times and was glad to have friends with me. It’s important to be very careful when taking drugs. I loved the lineup last year and I think the lineup this year is great too. I don’t understand the complaints maybe I’m too cool.”

Injuries and outfit-planning

Ghalya is another student who enjoyed her first time at Trinity Ball and is keen to point out that it is a well-organised event. “Trinity Ball was definitely more organised than I had pictured it to be. It is an event you do not want to miss, given all your conversations will revolve around nothing but that for a few weeks after. Although the venue is pretty massive, finding your way around the different stages is easy and there are volunteers to help direct you.”

It is worth the effort to get to experience an event unique to Trinity, where you are likely to see all of your peers at some stage or another.“What’s best about it is that it is the one party where practically everyone you know in College is there.”

This year, Trinity Ball is being held on the final day of term, which provides a great window of opportunity to unwind before the stressful exam season. It is longer than any regular night out, which Ghalya said allows you to “balance socialising whilst still having enough time to enjoy the music for hours”.

Much like the others I spoke to, Ghalya also sustained an injury on the night, having fallen on the way to Trinity. She eventually decided to go to the medical services, realising that her “whole shin was covered in blood”. She recalls leaning on a friend who lead her across campus to the medical staff, who removed pebbles from her knee. “I also got told off by the nurse,” she elaborates, “who told me how reckless it was to do nothing about [the injury] until a few hours later.”

If you do happen to injure yourself, the event is much like a festival in that there are an array of medical professionals and volunteers on hand to help. “They were very helpful in patching it up and giving me advice over how to take care of it later. Given there were quite a few students there, the waiting period was not long and each nurse was handling a student simultaneously which made it very efficient, a ‘walk in walk out’ type of situation.”

Agreeing with the many students who maintain that the lineup for the event has little effect on how enjoyable it is, Ghalya says: “I don’t remember most of the music I danced to that night but I recall the DJ tent being my favourite.” Like Zara, Ghalya advises dressing warmly. “The only things I’d want to change about that night is being smart enough to wear a jacket and not freeze while walking from one tent to the other in a crop top in the freezing cold. Lesson learned.”

Alice Whelan

Alice Whelan is a former Comment Editor and Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News. She is a Sociology and Political Science graduate.