Remembering Trinity Balls past

Faces of College present and past share their Trinity Ball memories ahead of this week’s celebrations.


‘The experience is quite different as a lecturer’

Ivana Bacik, Trinity College fellow and deputy leader of the Seanad

I have attended Trinity Ball many times, and it’s always been great. Of course I went nearly every year when I was an undergraduate student; and then in 1989 and 1990 I went as president of the Trinity Students’ Union – but there were also a few other years during the 1990s and early 2000s that I went as a staff member. A different experience but lots of fun too! The atmosphere at the Ball was always wonderful, not just for the music – and over my time I got to see the Undertones, the Dubliners, the Las, Desmond Dekker and lots of others. But the music was only ever part of the experience. There was so much more – getting dressed up with friends, seeing the College all decorated and almost unrecognisable, and the general carnival or festival atmosphere. I have a great memory of getting my photo taken with Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners at one Ball, but am still regretful that I never got to see Public Enemy play, or the Smiths or the Pogues – they headlined too at different Balls before my time. An older friend did get to hang out with Shane McGowan of the Pogues for one very memorable Ball, she had a wild time and still dines out on that story!

I went with most of my election campaign team, we stayed up all night dancing and spent most of the following morning in Bewley’s imbibing large quantities of coffee.

Since becoming a lecturer, I have attended a number of other Balls, and the experience is quite different. We get to hang out in the Senior Common Room bar, so we have nice toilets, and we even get ice in our gin and tonics. But despite these luxuries, as a staff member the Trinity Ball can never quite capture the same level of excitement we used to feel as students. I always remember that first moment of walking under the Front Arch as a student on a Ball night, seeing Front Square sparkling and people dancing everywhere – those are the enduringly brilliant memories of the Ball. Probably the best Ball I ever had was my final year in 1989. I had just been elected president of the Students’ Union and was about to sit my final exams. I went with most of my election campaign team, we stayed up all night dancing and spent most of the following morning in Bewley’s on Grafton Street imbibing large quantities of coffee – happy days! I hope everyone who attends the Ball this year has just as much fun as we did all those years ago.

‘Picture Shakespearian puffy, off white baggy shorts from waist to groin’

Catherine Comiskey, head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery

I don’t know if many of you are familiar with the Wallace and Gromit cartoon characters but my 1983 memory of the Trinity Ball was definitely a case of the wrong trousers  or in more recent MTV video awards parlance, a case of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

I attended the Ball for the first three of my four glorious years as an undergraduate at TCD from 1980 to 1984, 1983 was our finest! My date (now husband of 25 years, we were also married in Trinity) was an an architecture student who hailed all the way from Queen’s University Belfast. He and his best friend were on a college work placement in Cardiff and decided with the usual architect’s flourish that wouldn’t it be great if we all went in period costume.  Peter, my date, Gary, a rotund young gentleman from west Belfast  and Helen, a Welsh psychiatric nurse who came along for the craic, arrived late the night before the Ball. They travelled in a brown Ford Escort on the ferry from Holyhead.

We queued to enter at front gate, had our photo taken by those passing by  and all was going to plan until my older and, as he believed, wiser brother joined us.

The architects had decided, seeing as it was the Trinity Ball, that we should dress appropriately and hired costumes from the 18th century Georgian period. Peter sported a pair of pale pink velvet pantaloons with matching velvet tailcoat, complete with white stockings and black patent shoes with a silver buckle. The fair haired Garry  was in matching “royal” blue which was very appropriate for a chap from the west side of the forbidden or should I say foreboding city of the early nineteen eighties . Helen and I were, we firmly believed, simply beautiful in our very girly shade of bright pink trimmed with white lace, low cut, completely unwired ball gowns. Helen being the more buxom of the two of us was definitely the more fetching.

We queued to enter at Front Gate, had our photo taken by those passing by  and all was going to plan until my older and, as he believed, wiser brother joined us. He had tried to follow the lead of the Queen’s architects. However, being a mere Trinity engineer and made of less frivolous stuff, he thought he knew what he was doing when it came to most things, including costumes. Unfortunately for him while we four were dressed in 18th century Georgian, he showed up 16th century Elizabethan.  What might you ask is the difference? The answer is about 12 inches of male inside leg covering. Picture Shakespearian puffy, off white baggy shorts from waist to groin. Not a pretty sight but definitely a case of the wrong trousers.

Once we all recovered from the sight of so much pale engineer leg we had another great Trinity Ball night and such a laugh. To those who are going this year, enjoy it all, these are the nights you too will remember and you may never know, perhaps your date this year will be your future spouse.

‘I fight back the Buckfast and garlic mayonnaise nausea creeping up my throat’

Vincent Sheridan, final-year history student

The light creeping under the bedroom curtain burns my crust-shut eyelids. I try to catch my breath, as the collar of my shirt, once so roomy at my Debs five years previous, strangles me in a death grip; while my dickybow, its clasp proving far too complicated for my bewildered brain last night, has lodged itself in my mouth like a ball-gag. My head thumping, I embalm myself under my mysteriously damp suit jacket and fight back the Buckfast and garlic mayonnaise nausea creeping up my throat. I hear a faint tap on the door. My mother, the last bulwark between my mortal soul and eternal damnation, enters, and stares forlornly at the huddled mass of blankets and shame she brought into this cruel world. “So,” she asks me tentatively. “Did you have a good night?”

Flashes of vague images rise up from the darkness of my memory.

Truth be told, I have no idea. The events of the past eight hours have long since banished to the void of history, leaving me a shallow husk of my former self. I moan in reply, and she kindly exits, allowing me to stew in my own foul juices in peace. My chest heaving, I channel my last reserves of energy, and try to recall anything from the previous night.

Flashes of vague images rise up from the darkness of my memory. Queuing for two hours to catch what appeared to be your man from the WiMax ads performing Ukrainian folk songs. The mysteriously wizened first year selling baggies of washing up powder. The thoroughly confused Erasmus student angrily asking the security guard why the library is closed. The lad who snuck in by wearing his Transition Year Order of Malta jacket, cornered into performing an emergency tracheotomy. Assuring the tutor I ran into that “my jaw always looks like this.” Finding the winners of Trinity’s Battle of the Bands playing in a portaloo as “all the good stages were taken.” The CEO of MCD Promotions riding to the bank on a chariot powered by the outrage of students. A horde of irate revellers milling about outside, trying to hawk their comatosed mate’s ticket like it’s a Roman slave auction. The dance tent becoming so packed it successfully secedes, declaring itself the independent republic of “Gotanyyokes-istan”. Walking on Cars getting asked to leave for inciting property damage. Seeing a weeping Hozier trying to convince security that “his mates are inside.” The provost’s abysmal DJ set (thirteen minutes of “I Follow Rivers”, what the fuck like). Basement Jaxx cutting their set short to make sure they get into Coppers before midnight. Various members of Le Galaxie working behind the counter in McDonald’s at 5am, taking orders through song. A mob of besuited bourgeois zombies wandering around the city centre, desperately trying to swap an essay on postcolonial theory in exchange for an after party.

I grimace, as much from the pain of remembering as the memories themselves. Slowly, I reach a hand out from my hermetically sealed chamber of regret, and blindly grasp for the stagnant pint of water to the side of my bed.

“Fucking Eucharistic Congress,” I whisper.

‘I was shocked at the ease with which I managed to sneak in’

Oisin Byrne, final-year geography and economics student

There I was, shivering in my high-vis vest, walking up to the security man. I felt like our tuxes were clearly visible underneath. It was too late to turn back now. We kept walking, brandishing the chicken fillet roles we’d bought to make it look more like we were heading into work.

“Whose team are you on, lads?” the man with the much larger high-vis vest asked when we reached the barrier. “We’re on Sarah’s team,” my companion said, before I had a chance to answer. After a short silence, he beckoned us to head into the Arts Block. We continued past it, before stashing our vests behind a bin.The looks of disgust we got from friends made up for the lost pre-drinking time. I wandered around for about three hours, dancing with friends, observing their deteriorating co-ordination. At about 1:30am, it was time to leave: I had a flight to catch.

I was cajoled into accompanying them back to their hotel.

I headed down along the quays to the only 24-hour internet café I could think of. I’d forgotten to print off my boarding pass. I paid for half an hour and took my seat. I was pretty absorbed in my task so didn’t notice the altercation happening behind me. I looked up and saw a man being removed from the cafe and decided to move on. I had made it about halfway home when I ran into them. I heard them shouting around the corner before they appeared. I was in Temple Bar and it was a stag in full swing. As soon as they spotted me they began a rendition of the James Bond theme tune, before picking me up.

I assumed the joke would be short lived but this, looking back, was naive. I was cajoled into accompanying them back to their hotel. Once there, we had a few (very one-sided) conversations about Dublin life and the lads were even so good as to offer me a couple of drinks. After a while, I decided to have a brief rest as the possibility of doing having one when I got home was gone. After saying my goodbyes I walked the rest of the way home and packed my bag for Scotland.

With the taxi on its way, I only had time for an apple for breakfast. This still gave me enough time to reflect on what had gone on. From all the stories I’d heard of attempts to sneak in, such as the infamous one about the student who unsuccessfully spent the day in a tree or the one about the fresher who’d pulled a tin whistle out of his sleeve and claimed to be in Trinity Orchestra, I was shocked at the ease with which I’d gotten in. All it took was a chicken filly.

It was almost 5:00am and my housemates had returned. In a couple of hours, one of them would wake up and get sick all over his duvet, but I wasn’t to know. I got in my taxi and left.

‘Am I really in Hogwarts after all?’

Conor Marron, third-year physiotherapy student

If you’re attending the Trinity Ball (and you’re not a guest, for whom I take no responsibility), then it’s safe to assume you’ve probably spent at least one year in college and that you have a fair idea of the lie of the land by now. Then how is it that you find yourself in the early hours of 6th April picking yourself up after falling for the second time wondering where the fuck you are? Who moved that Campanile? Fear not, you’re just suffering from a very common Ball ailment, alcohol fuelled spatial disorientation. Getting lost at Trinity Ball is something we’ve been doing for centuries.

Apparently Jonathan Swift based Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels on a vision he had in the foyer of the Museum Building after he suddenly found himself there lost and out of his box on pills at Trinity Ball 1684. And if Swifty did it then so will you. When you do get lost here’s how to keep calm and stumble on.

The most obvious reason for your sudden directional difficulties is that you’ve probably just fallen foul of the reciprocal Arts/Science general geographical ignorance. For those of you unaware of the border, the Arts Block includes all of the nice buildings as far down as Players and then jack-knifes across to the Pav, which is also ours. I’m told everything beyond looks like office blocks and I believe is known as the Halloran (?), but I don’t know for sure as I’ve never been. If this is the reason for finding yourself misplaced then it can go one of two ways, basically depending on your degree.

If you are an Arts student and you find yourself lost down by the Halloran then you’re fucked. You may as well call it a night. You can’t go home because the gates are literally miles away at this stage. And there’s no sobering up either. Even if you could get outside the walls there’s no coffee down that end. There’s no water either. Well, there is but it comes in two parts Hydrogen and one part Oxygen and you’re expected to be able to mix that shit yourself. There are also no couches so you can scrap the idea of a cosy KO. You’re only option is to wait it out and sit in the cold, not having any fun. If you wait around until the Monday you’ll fit right in.

Being drunk in Trinity often leads to the belief that it might actually be possible that we are all in fact wizards.

However, it’s not all bad being a lost Arts student; you do have some advantages over your employable counterparts. Not only are you probably more experienced at binge drinking you’ll also actually be able to interact with people socially and ask directions. And misquote Byron to them. People love that. Assuming you can find anyone down there.

Now, Physics undergrad. Being a science student you probably can’t handle your drink for shit so more than likely you’ll find yourself lost at some point. You may be able to calculate your position by the stars sober, but tonight you’re shitfaced, shit out of luck and in our territory, both literally and drunkenly. That bright future isn’t worth jack when you’re falling over the cobbles of Front Square, cursing their impracticality yet moved to tears by the simplistic beauty they lend the scene. Snap out of. Leave the philosophising to those of us who are supposed to be studying it.

Stay cool, clean the sick off your tracksuit and cheer up. Trinity, unlike mullets, believes in business at the back, party at the front and you have been lucky enough to find yourself lost at the front. You’ll never want to go back to the arse of college again.

For you Science heads lucky enough to find yourself lost in the Arts Bloc, or Trinity College as it’s usually known, Paddy Prendergast has kindly decided to this year run a lost and found out of his front garden, where people can collect their drunken friends. If you’re a Science student then you’ve probably never seen Prendergast. If you’re an Arts student you’ve probably never seen him either. But I’ve been informed he is real and mad for the craic.

It is, of course possible, and in fact far more likely that you are just so gee-eyed that you find yourself lost in familiar territory. But you’re not really lost you’re just Trinity Ball lost which means that you are still in the same place as you were last time you knew where you were, but the alcohol has caught up with you and direction was the first sense to get washed away in the rising tide of Buckfast and Druids. But we can handle this too.

There is, of course, some general advice applicable to everyone regardless of their chosen field of academic study (and, of course, Arts students). The first thing you should do on realising that you have become separated from your friends is to down whatever drink you find yourself holding. Do this for a number of reasons. You’ll need both hands to climb the Campanile later, but also it’ll settle your nerves. Drink up.

If you’re going to pass out I would recommend the nice big grave slabs by the ATM.

Whatever you do, don’t stay in the same place. That never works. Your friends are not looking for you. They’re having the craic en masse while you’ve fucked up. The best way to find yourself back among the living is to follow the music. Unless all you can hear is The Coronas. Then just lie down and weep. Again.

One of the most common consequences of drinking too much is that you find things start to move. This is probably how you got lost in the first place. Combine this with the number one result of finding yourself drunk in Trinity (Ball night or not), that is the resurfacing of all the Hogwarts based fantasies of first year that you thought you had successfully repressed, you begin to ask yourself, am I really in Hogwarts after all?

Being drunk in Trinity often leads to the belief that it might actually be possible that we are all in fact wizards. This would fit with the blurry memory you have of seeing the Dining Hall steps moving some time ago. Run with this idea, it will actually prove helpful. This is why you always see people sitting on the steps at the Ball. They’re lost souls hoping to be shuttled back to their friends. Join them, you never know.

Honestly, if you do get hammered enough to find yourself lost in your own college then this is going to be the last thing you remember so I’ll end with some key pointers. If you’re going to pass out I would recommend the nice big grave slabs by the ATM. People will need money and might help you, or give you cash. If you need to get sick then go to the GMB and get sick on their steps. Or in the letterbox. The 24 hour library is a serious re-spawning point. You can send web-texts and ask homeless people for advice on how to get by.

Look for things that are familiar to you. The Campanile rarely moves, regardless of how much you drink, so it’s a good starting point. If all else fails try and climb it. You’ll see everything from up there. And more importantly everyone will be able to see you. And think you’re a lad.

Illustration: Natalie Duda