Fast-forward a few years and you are one of them. You’ve perfected your own brand of shabby chic fashion. You spend hours each day in hipster coffee shops, drinking overpriced blends that you hadn’t even heard of before you moved to the city, and discussing the newest cult TV show. You are, to the naked eye, the quintessential Trinity wanker.
But the truth is that your life is a delicate balancing act. When you go home, whether it’s every weekend or only during reading week and Christmas, you live a completely different lifestyle. You help out on your family’s farm. You talk about nothing but the weather, in detail, with every person you know. You don’t see public transport – or sometimes anyone outside of your immediate family – for days on end. You pack lightly when going home not because it’s a long way to bring a big suitcase, but because you have a whole other set of clothes for wearing at home, ones that won’t get you laughed out of the local pub.
You’re the only one of your friends who moved to Dublin for college. Some of them point-blank refused to put any Dublin colleges on their CAO, without really knowing why. You listen to their stories about Galway, Limerick, or Cork with interest, but they don’t want to hear about Dublin. It’s too foreign, too unfamiliar, too big. They can’t relate. All the bad things happen in Dublin. Dublin is where people go when they don’t plan on coming back. Any attempts to talk about college get interrupted with “Oh, well if that’s how they do it in Trinity…”, as if essays, exams, and admin fuck-ups aren’t universal to every Irish university. As if it’s a whole other world.
Similarly, if you even mention something “townie”, the inevitable response is “Sure, ’tis far from that you were raised!” – a phrase that jokingly gets thrown around a lot, but which effectively shames people into shutting up by accusing them of somehow betraying their upbringing. It’s a joke, obviously. It’s not meant to cause offence. Just like every other Dublin joke or “Trinners for winners” comment, it seems good-natured. But when you’ve heard the same exact comments a hundred or so times, they don’t seem so funny. In fact, they start to sound the slightest bit malicious.
Is this a prejudice against Dublin, or Trinity, or both? Things might be different if you were studying Ag Science or Veterinary Medicine in UCD, something “useful” that people who’ve worked in manual jobs their whole lives can understand and empathise with. But if you’re in Trinity, the assumption is that you’re studying something artsy and “useless”. Even if you’re not – say you’re studying medicine or engineering or pharmacy – sure why would someone with a fancy degree like you want to be hanging around with people who never got past the Inter Cert? Your friends and family worry that you think you’re better than them, no matter how much you try to tell them that Trinity is nothing special. Of course, there’s also the stubborn image of Trinity as a Protestant and/or English college to contend with, despite the fact that, like most young people, few Trinity students are more than marginally religious. Contrary to popular belief, it was the Catholic Church, not Trinity itself, that banned Catholics from attending up until 1970, but the more Catholic residents of rural, often nationalist-leaning, areas are still put off.
That’s not to say that people from the country are close-minded or judgemental – far from it. They’re proud of you for getting all those points, for daring to move so far away on your own, and they’re always pleased to see you when you come back. You get introduced to important people as “This is X, she goes to Trinity” (yes, that has happened to me). But there is a sense of distance, and of sadness too. As if they think every time they see you will be the last. Soon you’ll have a fancy important job that they don’t understand, and you won’t have time to come home anymore.
They’re not completely unjustified. Statistics show that 13% (over 165,000) of Dublin residents were born outside of the capital. For some comparison, that’s more than the entire population of Tipperary, and twice the population of Galway city – and given the lack of maternity hospitals in nearby counties, the actual number of residents who grew up outside of the city is likely much higher. So if so many Dubliners come from a rural background, why is it so difficult for newcomers to fit in? People all over Ireland seem to have a set idea of what a “Dubliner” is, and will try to conform to that idea, despite the fact that what they think of as a Dubliner is probably clichéd, outdated, and based on Fair City. Dublin is a varied, multicultural, constantly evolving, slightly ridiculous city, and neither its people or the people of any other city or county can be summed up in one sentence, one paragraph, or one article. Stereotyping, as always, leads to an endless self-perpetuating cycle of people who feel the need to choose one “side” over another, who don’t think they can be Dubliners without betraying their family and upbringing.
These attitudes can result in a feeling of isolation. Stuck between two worlds, your family thinks you’re a posh city-slicker, while your college friends think of you as a culchie – or worse, think your background is “cute” or “quaint”, despite actually knowing very little about it. You feel the need to be a “real” Dubliner (whatever that may be) while in Dublin, but this leaves you alienated when at home. On the other hand, you can never really go back to being the same person you were before you moved to the city. College has changed you, likely for the better, but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore or even deny your other life. It might be tough, but you can live both lifestyles without feeling you’re somehow abandoning a part of yourself. You’ll need to put up with a lot of bad jokes, most of which you’ll laugh along with. But don’t be afraid to defend yourself either. Sometimes you might need to say “Yeah, I go to Trinity, so what?” or “So my dad’s a farmer, what’s your point?”, which tend to shut most people up pretty fast.
As Trinity students, we have a certain image we need to contend with – one that’ll probably never fully go away. We’ll endure the jokes and the snide comments, but at the end of the day, as long as you’re where you want to be, what does any of the rest of it matter? Yeah, it may be tough. But facing and dealing with criticism and mockery is an essential life skill that you will be thankful for later in your hopefully long and successful life.
Illustration: Marina Bogautdinova