Trinity Heraeans – the final revival?

The all-female answer to the Knights of the Campanile has been formally restarted

The Trinity Heraeans have been officially confirmed as being formally back in existence, with a Welcome Evening held on Monday 5th February for its newest members and attending the Knights of the Campanile dinner on Friday 23rd February. The Heraeans were first established in 1979 by Greta Hickey (Dublin University Harriers & Athletics Club), Caroline Watson, and Claire Losty, designed to emulate the mission of the Knights of the Campanile (estb. 1926) in hosting and entertaining visiting sports teams to the University. The Heraeans differed to the Knights, however, in that their initial mission was also to generally promote women’s sports around Trinity – an unusual proposition at the time. Akin to the Knights, their membership was drawn from those who excelled in either the playing or organisation of their chosen sports, with additional emphasis on being sociable individuals capable of carrying out the organisation’s hosting duties. The early Heraeans named themselves after the first female Olympians, who styled themselves the Heraeans after the Greek goddess Hera, queen of heaven and goddess of women. 

This latest revival of the Heraeans was instigated by the Provost, Linda Doyle”

This latest revival of the Heraeans was instigated by the Provost, Linda Doyle. As each of her predecessors have been, Doyle was invited to the Annual Meeting of the Knights of the Campanile following her election as Provost in 2023. Her speech at the dinner allegedly praised the Knights as an organisation, commending them in particular for the strength of connection maintained between their alumni and their current student members, however also highlighted the fact that her status as the single female presence in  the room was unusual in 2023, and called for the reinstatement of the Heraeans. This statement apparently caused some rumblings in the room following its delivery, however, it paved the way for the refounding of the Heraeans this year.

In April last year, less than a day after Ciara Mulligan was elected Captain of Dublin University Ladies Hockey Club for the 2023/24 season, she was contacted by the President (student leader) of the Knights of the Campanile. She was asked to spearhead the refounding of the Heraeans as an organisation, a task she might have been more suited for than the Knights knew, as the Heraeans are a family affair for her. Her mother was a Heraean during the later years of her degree, graduating in 1991, and that initial connection opened the floodgates to reaching out to the Heraeans alumnae across the decades, culminating in the creation of a comprehensive database of their former members. 

The remainder of the term was spent making cursory plans for the project, before the summer holidays required a lull in this activity. Since the restart of the academic year, Mulligan has spent considerable time working on the organisation’s restart, from liaising with fellow ladies’ team Captains around College, keeping the Provost updated on its progress, and deciding which athletes to invite to join the exclusive group. Given the Heraeans are very much in the infancy of their rebirth, membership is currently drawn from the more obvious options – Captains and Sports Scholars of approximately ten of the major campus sports, such as hockey, Gaelic games, cricket, and rowing. Contact was made with the prospective invitees in late January.

One of the more significant developments from the Heraean’s resuscitation has been the reveal of the possibility that they will be merging with the Knights to create a unified organisation committed to their formerly separate but identical missions. While details are yet to be ironed out, it’s possible that in the vein of Oxford University’s Vincent’s Club, the Knights and the Heraeans could be working and celebrating together in the years to come, with a vote expected to be taken at the Knights’ upcoming Annual Meeting. This approach is dissimilar to that of Cambridge University, where the Hawks’ and Ospreys’ Clubs work in a separate but parallel capacity. Mulligan believes that this process will go a serious way to eliminating the Heraeans’ former struggles to remain active as an organisation, as will the steps taken to create an active alumnae network. The Heraeans initially lasted from 1980 to an unspecified date before fading out, and the first revival took place between 1989 – 2005, after which the organisation again fell defunct. The last attempt to bring back the organisation lasted about five years, from 2009 – 2013, before once again fading into nonexistence. Maintaining an organisation of this is a perpetual challenge, with even the Knights risking a fadeout in the immediate post-Covid phase, when they had only five active student members out of the fifty the organisation permits itself to maintain.

The Knights’ dinner on February 23rd, however, was a strong statement against the diminishment of either organisation. With over two hundred attendees, approximately fifty of whom were women drawn from the Heraeans’ current ranks and alumnae, including Olympic medalist Annalise Murphy as guest speaker, the evening was a fine celebration of sporting excellence within the College community. Held in the Dining Hall and featuring addresses from the Provost as well as the President of the Knights, Theo Dempsey, and the Heraeans, Ciara Mulligan, the merged social event was reported as a thoroughly enjoyable event that featured minimal discomfiture to do with the Heraeans’ presence. 

The aim of the Heraeans first and foremost to carry out its hosting duties, but it will also serve as a space where the elite sportswomen of College can gather in a spirit of collegiality and recognise their status and achievements. Unquestionably a noble aim, hopes are high at the moment that their most recent rebirth will be the final and decisive one.

Jane Prendergast

Jane Prendergast is Co-Sports Editor of Trinity News. She is a Junior Sophister student of Law.