As the world nestled down in the wake of Covid-19 last spring, one TV show took Ireland and seemingly the world by storm. BBC Three’s adaption of Sally Rooney’s Normal People offered a feel-good experience in a decidedly bad situation. Set on the streets of South Dublin and in Trinity’s very own campus, the series captured the romantic intrigue of its two protagonists. Yet as engaging as the story is, Normal People reveals more. The show is unmistakably set in Dublin, but its characters are natives of County Sligo. Whereas Marianne initially shines coming to Dublin, Connell does not. The audience bears witness to the feelings of isolation and loneliness that he experiences. This aspect of the show is so ubiquitous, precisely because it is a situation shared by so many students coming to study in Dublin.
“Accounting for inflated rental prices, a complex network of public transport, and the extortionate cost of living in the capital, moving to the capital is by no means an easy feat.”
Coming to Dublin is a daunting experience. It is a city like no other on the island of Ireland, for better or worse. It is by far the largest, with statistics showing that County Dublin encompasses 28% of the entire Republic’s population, and it shows. Whether it’s the bustling nightclub scene or its melting pot of diverse eateries, Dublin City offers something not found elsewhere in Ireland. Dublin has a distinct identity. Both an Irish and an international city, this duality can be found in the mold of Dublin City itself and its student environment.
Yet moving to Dublin is a culture shock; there is just no way around it. Starting a new life in an unfamiliar city is jarring for anyone. Accounting for inflated rental prices, a complex network of public transport, and the extortionate cost of living in the capital, moving to the capital is by no means an easy feat. This all awaits students from the country before they even step foot onto the campus grounds, which comes with its own “culture shock” as such. Students who haven’t lived in Dublin before are met with a college environment where it seems the entire student body greets one another with a level of familiarity akin to lifelong friends.
“Sometimes it can feel like the student bodies of Dublin colleges consist of girls from Mount Anville and guys from Blackrock.”
It is precisely this familiarity that presents the most significant shock. It is no secret that Dublin has a history of private schooling and it becomes almost a clique when you get to college age. Sometimes it can feel like the student bodies of Dublin colleges consist of girls from Mount Anville and guys from Blackrock. In fact, pupils from private schools made up 25-30% of Trinity’s class of 2019. With statistics like these, it’s not hard to see why The Irish Times claims there’s a “class gap” in Dublin’s top colleges.
With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that feelings of isolation loom large for those new to college. Normal People may have brought the issue to the forefront of our consciousness this spring but it’s by no means a new problem; mental health studies carried out in the UK reveals that loneliness is as much of a problem for the 18-24 age bracket as it is for the elderly. The Independent found that a third of British students feel “lonely on a weekly basis”. It would be reasonable to state that every third student will find themselves in this position of loneliness at some point throughout their college years.
Exclusivity can permeate Trinity’s campus environment because for Dublin natives, having a couple of familiar faces around makes life just a little easier. For those coming from outside Dublin, the college will, at times, feel like a one-person show. For evidence of this, you need only turn to the rugby pitch. Dominated by cohorts of private school alumni, collegiate rugby can feel like a South Dublin game. For any prospective student, freshers week offers the perfect opportunity to get involved. “Open to all” is often the mantra put forward by these clubs. Yet for many sports clubs in Trinity, it’s often the blank space on the registration form prompting you to immortalise your alma mater that speaks a thousand words.
Beyond college life, difficulties facing would-be students hardly abate. Trinity College has a beautiful campus, with it being flanked by Georgian Dublin. This beauty comes at a cost. You need only look at rents.ie to see just how expensive accommodation in Dublin 2 can be. Ranging from €500 if you’re lucky, to upwards of €1,000, living around the city centre is eye-watering. The solution for many is to move further away, where the rent is cheaper, but like all things, that once again comes at a price. Public transport isn’t free, any Dubliner can certainly tell you that, so if you are moving to Dublin, you are left with a dilemma, move further out and expend time and money on Dublin Bus, or live closer and pay more. Either way, your wallet will feel lighter living in the capital.
“Truth be told, for all the elitism present in clubs dotted around campus, the majority of clubs you find at Freshers’ week stay true to their policy of welcoming everyone.”
All of this may sound disheartening, but for as many reasons why Dublin can be daunting, there are just as many reasons why Dublin is exciting. Dublin colleges continuously rank highly on the global stage, something that is the driving force for why so many come to study here. This, coupled with a vibrant social scene, gives students a wide range of places to enjoy themselves. Whether it’s a quick pint or a big night out, everything is at the doorstep of campus. Truth be told, for all the elitism present in clubs dotted around campus, the majority of clubs you find at Freshers’ week stay true to their policy of welcoming everyone.
For all the exclusivity found in Dublin colleges, there is a profoundly welcoming atmosphere and a sense of community that lies in the heart of a major European city. Dublin, is a truly great city to students; it’s just what you make of it that matters.