Reeling in the years: Trinity News edition

Emma Rouine transports us back to an era when Trinity was exclusive to a select Irish population

Trinity has evolved a lot over the years. At times, it’s hard to believe that it was only 1970 when the rule that previously banned Catholics from studying in College was lifted, which had omitted a huge cohort of the Irish population. 

With the rapid development of College over the years, the Irish perspective on attending has changed significantly over time. Anyone who grew up in a working-class Irish household will be familiar with the stereotypes that the public has held for Trinity College. From a personal perspective, being the first member of my family to attend College, my family have consistently reminded me of the prestige and honour it is to be a Trinity College student. However, what makes it different from the other colleges? This stigma around Trinity stems back to when they grew up in an era where college especially, Trinity College, wasn’t an option. Whenever I have conversations with my dad who finished up his second-level education in 1980 to become an apprentice in the bar trade, he says that there wasn’t even an option of going onto third-level education. He told me how “Trinity was seen as one of those places where the average person would never have been given access…it was only open to the wealthier class, the privileged class.”

“College had a certain reputation. Unless you were from a wealthy family, it just wasn’t a possibility, unlike today”

In other words, College had a certain reputation. Unless you were from a wealthy family, it just wasn’t a possibility, unlike today. Growing up in today’s generation proves very different to the ones before. Now, Irish students have access to a wide range of opportunities to help them make the move to third-level education ranging from from the DARE and HEAR schemes, SUSI payments helping to cover tuition fees to of course, TAP, Trinity College’s access program.

However, my question today is what about the student life in College all those years back when these opportunities weren’t available? While, today we know student life as largely, diverse and accessible to students with different interests and needs, previously, campus would not have been as encompassing due to its selectivity of students. Keeping this in mind, I have delved through the Trinity News’ archives to see what previous Trinity News writers have defined as impacting student life in years gone past. 

So what did I find? Well, if I take you back in time to the 1960s, think of obsessing over the Beatles and retro diners, except it would have been 1960s Ireland, so the romanticised Americanized version of the 60’s I have in my head wouldn’t live up to its expectations.

I found the 1960s to have a huge theme on gender throughout the issues. In April 1968, there was a special feature under the sub-title “women’s section”, where the writer (not named) talks about perceived conceptions of women attending college at this time and says public view would have called her mother “foolish” enough to let me “waste” four years of my life at College instead of raking in the shekels with a good secretarial job till I got married, all the relatives were horrified”. It was also documented over “80% of the Senior Sophisters were either getting married as soon as they left or had already taken the almighty step.”And while women had access to College, there were huge integral parts of College life that they weren’t granted access to. For example,  it was documented that women were only eligible to become fellows and scholars in 1968.

“Even a student newspaper, the ones that were supposed to be leading the change in the 60’s couldn’t switch this up”

In 1961 when there was a profile given on Prue Furney, the president of the Elizabethan society at the time, the profile made sure to include something on her relationship status. The concluding paragraph noted that “Prue has not found her man yet.” There was this automatic association that a woman’s “profile” wasn’t complete unless she had a man by her side. It disappointedly fed into all my stereotypical beliefs that I held towards this era, even a student newspaper, the ones that were supposed to be leading the change in the 60’s couldn’t switch this up.

In later editions in the 60’s another trend started to emerge regarding the housing crisis in the city. An issue released in January 1969 stated that the crisis has been a problem for the last ten years, noting that “Those who are hardest hit by the present situation are the young couples who have just married or are about to.” Interestingly, (given today’s current chaos with the student accommodation crisis), there was no note on how this crisis impacted students. Perhaps, this suggests that the majority of students were from Dublin or surrounding counties and able to live at home. Or simply, the students who studied at College were from a wealthy background and therefore, the limited accommodation wasn’t an issue for them.

Archbishop John Charles McQuaid was documented to have called it a “mortal sin” for a Catholic to attend the university”

The Catholic ban was discussed regularly throughout the 60’s with a clear progression throughout these years. In 1961, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid was documented to have called it a “mortal sin” for a Catholic to attend the university. McQuaid noted The Lenten Regulations for the state, and concluded that it was a “grave error to think that a Catholic youth, at the conclusion of secondary studies, is so mature that he or she may, without serious risk, be exposed to the formation of a neutral or Protestant University.” Writer Michael Newcombe shared a view on this in 1962, writing; “There is ill-concealed bitterness at mention of the ‘British regime’ and one cannot help feeling that still, after so many years, Trinity stands for all that is British in this country.” These debates continued throughout the issues in the 60’s but by 1969 it was established that the ban was expected to be lifted in the early 70’s.

Through these articles, we can see the huge impact of the Catholic church on a largely protestant institution. There were few issues that didn’t mention the ban. It had an immense impact on student life, whether one was Catholic or not. The ban was a constant speculated debate in the student media. The state and church were extremely intertwined in their views, and this didn’t just stop at education, the gender divide was evident too. It was an expectation for women to marry and stay at home and even today, article 41.2 of the constitution is still yet to be removed, where it states; “By her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved” and that “mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” 

Often we tend to romanticise the past (understandably, living in the same era as the Beatles?). Who wouldn’t…. But, these archives steeped in Irish history are vital in serving as a timely reminder. They are an important reality check that despite the problems facing today’s generation, there are still more opportunities given to Irish young people than ever before.

Emma Rouine

Emma Rouine is the current Student Living Co - Editor and a Junior Sophister English Studies student. She previously served as Deputy Student Living Editor.