The secret spirits and superstitions of Trinity

As warm bodies return to campus, Trinity News delves deeper into College superstitions that haunt the living.

Last year saw Trinity’s campus rendered a ghost town, haunted by the spectres of pre-lockdown’s past.  With staff and students seldom to be seen, it seemed Trinity was  populated only by ghosts. This Halloween, College is set to reopen in full, but that doesn’t mean Trinity is completely ghost-free. This Halloween, Trinity News has investigated the real ghosts that haunt College’s hallowed halls, and question whether they are fact or fiction.  Founded in 1592, Trinity has a vast history, and plenty of skeletons in its closet. As warm bodies return to campus, we delve deeper into Trinity’s traditional superstitions that haunt the living.

Ghosts of Trinity

Edward Ford

The first, and perhaps most renowned, of Trinity’s resident ghosts is Edward Ford, a former student and eventual fellow of the college during the early 1700s.  Residing at Trinity’s Oldest Building, the Rubrics, during his fellowship, Ford was notorious amongst students for being an “obstinate and ill-judging man” due to his tendency to unnecessarily interfere with student matters.  

One night, a particularly rowdy group of students, who had been previously scolded by Ford for harassing a college porter at Front Gate, returned home from a night of drinking, passed by House 25 and decided to throw rocks at Ford’s window.  Disgruntled by this disturbance, Ford reached for his pistol and shot at the students through his newly broken window.  The students fled uninjured, but decided to retaliate with their own illegally possessed firearms.  The students shot Ford, who succumbed to his injuries two hours later, dying as a result of a drunken revenge.  It is rumoured that his last words requested that the students be forgiven for their unthinkable actions: “I do not know, but God forgive them, I do.”

It is believed that Ford’s ghost still lingers at his old residency, and he is said to wander around the Rubrics, dressed in wig, gown, and knee breeches.

Archbishop Narcissus Marsh

The second of Trinity’s spectral alumni is that of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, who held the position of Provost during the 1670s.  After his term as Provost, Marsh took post at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where he founded Marsh’s Library.  He was known as a quiet man, who spent much of his time in the library he established. Marsh was also the guardian of his niece, Grace, whom he adored.  

The legend describes that, at nineteen years old, Grace fell in love with a sea captain.  Marsh disapproved of this relationship, advising Grace to end it promptly.  However, Grace, provoked by her devotion and love, ran away with her sea captain, eloping, and leaving her uncle heartbroken.  Marsh died soon after, from what some believe to be a broken heart.  It is rumoured that Grace left her uncle a note shortly before she took off, and hid it in one of the books in Marsh’s library.   Now, Marsh’s ghost roams the library shelves, searching for his beloved niece’s final words to him. 

George Francis Fitzgerald

The final of our potential phantoms is that of George Francis Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald was a physicist in the 1800s, known for the Fitzgerald-Lorentz contraction, a theory of the relativity of space to speed.  A Trinity mathematical and experimental science student, Fitzgerald graduated at the top of his college class.  He was then hired as a tutor at Trinity, and advocated for an increase in practical teaching of experimental physics at the college, and was soon granted a fellowship.  Fitzgerald died in 1901 at the young age of 41, which many understand to be a result of overwork. Many students now believe that the ghost of Fitzgerald haunts the Physical Laboratory, now known as the Fitzgerald laboratory.  However, this may just be spectral speculation, as the Physical Laboratory was built in 1905, four years after Fitzgerald’s death. 

Legends of Trinity

The Campanile

The Campanile in Front Square is an iconic landmark of College, and is central to one of Trinity’s most historical superstitions.  Legend has it that if a student walks underneath the Campanile as the bell tolls within the tower, they will fail all of their exams. The bell is known to ring at completely random intervals, meaning an unfortunate student walking under the Campanile can be cursed at any moment. The superstition, however, also contains a loophole. If the cursed student can touch the foot of former Provost George Salmon’s statue before the bell stops ringing, the curse is reversed and a student’s academic fate remains in their own hands. Salmon is known for his alleged promise that no woman would ever study in Trinity, and many might wonder why, in light of Linda Doyle’s appointment as Provost, his ghost hasn’t reared its ugly head. Warnings have been passed down from student to student year to year, and many students avoid roaming underneath the structure for their entire college career.  For those cautious students, walking underneath the campanile on graduation day is a mark of triumph over both Trinity’s taxing programmes, and the curse of the Campanile.

The Underground Tunnels

Legend has it that there is a network of underground tunnels beneath Trinity that only an exclusive few contain access to. These tunnels contain an underground route from the Lecky Library to the Berkeley Library. Other rumoured tunnel routes that pass through Trinity include a passage from the Provost’s House to St Stephen’s Green, and from the Berkeley to the Book of Kells. There are also rumours of a wine cellar underneath House 10 in Front Square that also serves as a tunnel to the nearby Royal College of Surgeons, a tunnel that was used during the 1916 Rising to transport ammunition. The tunnel is now rumoured to transport alcohol for a select number of students before the College’s famous annual Trinity Ball.

While Trinity is known for its hallowed halls, once roamed by numerous treasured alumni, perhaps what is just as interesting about Trinity is its alumni that never left; the ghosts that roam the grounds and courtyards, as well as legends that surround the distinguished campus, play a role in building and preserving its reputation as a college with a rich history. 

Lara Mellett

Second Year English Studies student at Trinity