Sitting proudly amongst the historical Georgian architecture of South Dublin and just a short walk from many of our states’ political institutions, shopping districts, and some of the city’s finest restaurants and bars, Trinity seems to be blessed with an ideal location, the likes of which other universities can only dream of having. From a historical perspective, however, there is something rather unique about the location of College. Trinity’s campus was not constructed with the future growth of Dublin in mind. Rather, the city itself grew around it. This historical decision has had major repercussions for the expansion of College and its amenities, right into the present, as well as for its relationship with the city of Dublin.
“As the College grew rapidly, so too did Dublin. Trinity found itself stuck at the centre of a rapidly expanding city and unable to grow in the style of similarly large universities.”
The Royal Charter – issued by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 – saw the establishment of what was Ireland’s first university, located outside the city walls of Dublin, which, at this time, was still a modest settlement. For four centuries, the land Trinity is now located on had been hailed as a place of knowledge and learning, functioning as a location for the Priory of All Hallows, one of Ireland’s many ancient monastic foundations. As the centuries passed, Trinity’s campus expanded, surviving periods of political unrest and multiple rebellions. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the original university buildings had been torn down or destroyed, replaced with the grand buildings which today make up Front Square.
As the College rapidly grew, so did Dublin. Trinity found itself at the centre of a rapidly expanding city and unable to grow in the style of other large universities. While Oxford and Cambridge, the English universities that Trinity was modelled after, took advantage of the empty sites around their campuses, Trinity, being centred in a major European city, was unable to do the same. Trinity’s location became even more of a hindrance with the construction of the then Irish parliament building, today the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland, and major shopping streets nearby. Trinity was at the centre of Anglo-Irish high society in Dublin and the city gradually expanded outward from College Green.
“In this current era of rapid economic expansion for Dublin, the likes of which has not seen since Georgian times, Trinity too is being forced to look further afield in order to expand its campus.”
With a need to separate itself from the city surrounding it, walls were constructed around College, forming a closed-off community on campus, which, to the outside world appeared intimidating and isolating, but for the campus, ensured continued ability to function as a centre of learning. To this day, these walls keep the College hidden away from the people of Dublin, out of sight to the many thousands who pass by daily.
In this era of rapid economic expansion for Dublin, the likes of which has not been seen since Georgian times, Trinity too is being forced to look further afield in order to expand its campus. With space quickly running out, a priority of preservation is given to the few green spaces that remain for students to enjoy. Whilst there is room for some expansion on the main grounds, with a new Business School under construction and the Oisín House development on Pearse Street well underway, it is impossible to ignore that Trinity is reaching its capacity to expand. Whilst other Irish colleges like University College Dublin and National University of Ireland, Galway contain sprawling green spaces between buildings and long walks around campus, Trinity has the feel of a small, compact village, walled off from the busy city outside.
Trinity’s walled off environment isn’t always capable of protecting its students from the daily happenings of city centre life. The Luas works that took place outside College over the past few years were a huge inconvenience to many students, with late night construction noise affecting those living on campus. General upheaval was also caused by increased traffic congestion, affecting bus schedules and, by association, many students in their commute toward the city centre. This commute into the heart of Dublin is difficult enough, considering a student must compete against office workers, busy shoppers, and a constant wave of tourists in order to make it to class on time. This is an issue students attending less central universities simply don’t encounter.
“Whilst Trinity remains Ireland’s top university and one of the state’s leading tourist attractions – its doors are open to the public seven days a week – issues still remain.”
As with issues surrounding any practical problem, however, solutions and accommodations can be reached. In July 2018, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar approved plans for the construction a €1 billion Innovation Campus for Trinity, which will be located in the Grand Canal Docks. The planned project will see the creation of a research institute, laboratories, student rooms, and a business start-up hub. This decision to shift Trinity’s expansion to a new area of the city not only provides much needed space for growth, taking pressure off an already densely occupied campus, but opens up the College to the rest of the world. Whilst Trinity remains Ireland’s top university and one of the state’s leading tourist attractions – its doors are open to the public seven days a week – issues still remain. Its uninviting and harsh exterior walls, which keep the College community separated from the chaotic city centre, have always been an obstacle to integration and the formation of a greater sense of belonging in the wider city. Speaking after the government’s confirmation of the Innovation Campus project, University Provost Patrick Prendergast spoke of the impact it will have on Trinity’s relationship with partners elsewhere in Ireland, stating: “The presence of a world class university at the heart of the Grand Canal Innovation District will be the catalyst for collaboration and partnership between industry and universities.” By further opening up our campus to the rest of Dublin city through expansion projects, we knock down isolating walls and allow the College to become a more inviting component within the city, no longer confined to its original College Green site.
Trinity owes its location and village-like structure to a number of historical decisions made centuries ago. Yet, by making bold decisions regarding the future now, and by preparing for the required expansion and growth of the College, we have entered an era where we can rethink Trinity’s place in the city. Both government and College administrative bodies acknowledge Trinity’s important role and rich history within the city of Dublin and the Irish state, with decisions like the Grand Canal project being proposed as a way to prepare College for the changes that lie ahead.