I write from inside my empty kitchen, overlooking the Halls courtyard, the night before 1000 first years descend on this miniature concrete rainforest, like I did: apprehensive. Tabloids and broadsheets alike herald Trinity as the sole relic of the class divide in Ireland, and this lie, so commonly told to our young people, often does more damage than it intends.
I wish I had the chance to tell them all in person how a lowly Leitrim girl like me could ever belong to a place like this, a place that the national media have elevated as a symbol of everything I am not.
I am a Senior Freshman Law and Political Science student. I come from a single-parent family in the depths of Leitrim, and I am on the full SUSI grant scheme. I live three hours away from home and have never spent a week skiing in Northern Italy. But since I stepped foot in this college I have never once felt out of place because of my background. Not for one moment.
Where I come from, third-level education is not taken for granted. We never saw the extravagant heights of the Celtic Tiger, nor are we now seeing what inside the Pale has been lovingly deemed “the recovery”. West of the Shannon, public transport is minimal, the land is bad, and parish politics prevail. And yet here we find ourselves – the royal “we” – in Trinity. Trinity College, Dublin: where public transport is only briefly scuppered by unions, affordable housing is scarce and the national politics reflects the ever-growing economy on the floodplains of the Liffey.
At first glance, the difference may seem vast, even irreconcilable. But the fact is that this difference, this gaping hole in the social tapestry that weaves through Trinity… it just isn’t relevant. Not to me, not to my friends, not to the people I pass nonchalantly on the Arts Block ramp. Where I come from, who my father is – it’s just quite simply irrelevant.
Fifty percent of my friends are on the SUSI grant scheme, and the ones that aren’t know exactly what it is. Of all the wonderful people I have been so fortunate to meet here, not one of them would ever attempt to dismiss any other student’s financial struggles.
The GMB, commonly viewed as the elitist stronghold within the college walls, a place of eloquence, opulence and sophistication, is not home to the elite and ignorant, but rather to the most understanding people I’ve met on either side of the Shannon, people who have made me feel so welcome and at home miles away from my own homestead. They do not judge me. They know where I come from, they know the extent of my riches, they know me entirely, and for that I love them just the same; I love them entirely.
At lectures, class never dictates seating arrangements. I sit with everyone else on my course. I sit alongside heirs to great fortunes and heirs to nothing at all. There’s no denying we come from vastly different backgrounds. I have listened in awe to summer throwbacks to interrailing with private school chums and I have admitted to my summers spent painting fences with nothing but the sweet scent of WD40 on some old bike brakes in lieu of fresh French croissants.
But no one has ever unfairly compared their summers to mine. They have only ever expressed the most sincere longing for a summer so carefree.
There is no denying that there’s a sense back home that us “Trinners” are fast developing notions of ourselves. I find myself telling people I go to college in Dublin, avoiding the backlash I expect should I name which one. The more I think about it, the more the need to self-correct like this appears wholly unnecessary. What am I afraid of? Withering stereotypes? Or the realisation of a hostile mismatch between my aspirations and my roots?
But while my feet pace over the worn cobblestones in Front Square, none of this matters. The stereotypes are wilted and gone, and with them any mismatch I thought existed. Few from my school have come to Trinity. Few have even contemplated it. My friends have openly discussed not putting Trinity on their CAO because they felt it was a reach too far, a leap they were not willing to take. But I say: leap. Jump. The worst that can happen is that you graze your knees. Then again, you might fly.
The thing about it is – and I want to make this very clear – in Trinity no one cares where you come from. I was compelled to write this because I know what it’s like to be on a full SUSI grant in Trinity. I know what it’s like to feel envy, and at times just pure frustration, at the fortunes of my friends. But to my counterparts back home: do not be frightened. Trinity may seem big and lavish and grotesquely ignorant, but trust me, it’s not. I’m not writing SU propaganda, I’m not low-key writing on behalf of the Department of Education. I’m writing from experience. I’m laying it all out for you.
This is the place where I have met some of the most beautiful, dazzling people in my life. The people here will not ask you what your parents earn. They will not question where you come from. The only thing that matters is you. You on your own, as your own person, your own individual. No elaborate backstories, no past skiing experience necessary. Please do not listen to the stereotypes that bounce around classrooms across the country. I’ve heard them, I know their sentiments. Trinity is just a college. Dublin is just a city. And almost everyone I have met here understands that all that matters is us, who we are as people – nothing more, nothing less.