Trinity College Dublin tour – 10 things you’ll learn
The Trinity College Dublin tour – what about it?
I always wanted to go on the Trinity College Dublin tour since I first went to Dublin in 2006. That year, I went on a university field trip, but never found time to go to the college. An opportunity missed there. Since then I’d been vicariously there through looking at tourist literature and photos. It wasn’t until last year that I finally had the opportunity to visit despite travelling through Dublin numerous times.
Usually when in Ireland, I’m based in Cork. Depending on costs of flights, it’s cheaper for me to get to Cork via Dublin. Usually that means that I’ll spend 1-3 hours in the city depending on the time of my train from Heuston Station.
How long did I have?
On this day, I landed in Dublin at 9am. My train was booked for 1pm. By the time I came out of the airport and took a 30 min bus from the airport to the city centre, this left me less than 3 hours to roam around the city. And much less when factoring in time to travel to Heuston station and getting there in good time before the train leaves. This left me a little over two hours. Just enough time to do the tourist thing – even just one thing.
I knew hearing from friends and colleagues that they recommended doing this tour. Considering that I was very close to Trinity College that day, it was really a no-brainer. So I walked up to the Front Gate, paid for my ticket and was on my way.
For those who haven’t been, I just wanted to write this article to give you the lowdown on the tour, where you get taken, what to expect and what you can learn. So here’s 10 things I learned on the Trinity College Dublin tour.
1. You won’t want to do the Trinity College Dublin tour in bad weather
Flying over to Dublin that morning, I knew that the weather wasn’t going to be the best. The forecast was rain all day and the weather didn’t fail to live up to expectations.
There’s nothing worse than doing an outdoor tourist activity in the rain. It’s OK for the first 15 minutes but then the reality sets in. Water starts dripping down to your jeans and shoes, and eventually your lower half will become soaked through. If you haven’t brought any waterproofs, expect your top half to soak first with the rain gradually reaching down below. Either way, you’ll get cold and misrable. The only thing you’ll think about is getting in somewhere warm and dry. Never mind anything else.
This was what was in store for me. And that was the expectation as I walked down O’Connell Street through the rain towards College Green. And it carried on that way as I bought my ticket and waited underneath the shelter of the Front Gate for the next tour. As I waited, I happened to see the last tour group looking rain-soaked and absolutely miserable.
This was obviously my fate now; cold, wet, possibly in danger of being swept away by a deluge of floodwater coming from some imagined river in the campus. And then one of those miracles you didn’t expect in those worst of times, actually happened.
As the tour started and our group was led towards the main Front Square the rain eased up. The rest of the tour was conducted in relative dryness, with the odd smattering of rain here and there. In fact I was able to get through the tour and get into the Old Library without a major soaking.
So guys, if you’re thinking of doing the Trinity College Dublin tour, try and make sure you’re at least doing it in good weather. I managed to get lucky that day
2. It’s not so simple to buy a Trinity College Dublin tour ticket….if you’re paying by card
Usually a walk-up ticket purchasing system works likes this:
- Go to ticket booth
- Ask for ticket
- Pay for ticket
- Thank you for your custom
In an ideal world, that system would always work. But this is assuming that everyone who buys a ticket has cash to buy it with the in first place. But not everyone uses or wants to use cash these days. With our lives becoming increasingly reliant on digital services, it’s logical to nearly pay for everything using card. You pretty much see it almost everywhere in Western Europe. Just not all the time in Ireland.
I wanted to pay for the tour by card. Unfortunately I was advised that only cash is accepted. In this day and age, and in a modern city like Dublin where tourism is big money here, I was a little surprised. Instead, I was directed to the Student’s Union shop to pay, which thankfully was pretty much a short few steps away next to the Front Gate.
So here’s my advice: bring some cash to save you the extra hassle.
3. The Trinity College Dublin tour guide isn’t Irish
When you go on a tour in any country, it’s taken for granted and almost a given that you’d expect the tour to be conducted by a local. In this case, in Ireland, by an Irish person. This is part of being in the Irish experience, right? Not at Trinity College.
After waiting a good while for the tour to begin at the entrance gate, the tour group was gathered together by a tall, confident, strapping young chap. The kind of chap you see modelling for one of those preppy brands – think Hollister and Jack Wills. This chap also turned out to be an Englishman who happened to be studying here in his final year reading history.
I guess with Dublin being a cosmopolitan city, you have to expect that today. But if I’m not going to have a local showing me around, they have to at least have some passion for the history of this place. Which he happened to have in droves, and you could tell through the knowledge that he shared with the tour group. So, I guess that wasn’t such a bad trade off.
He’s still not a local though.
4. You’ll be waiting a long time to enter the Old Library
As soon as the tour finished out Berkeley Library, I realised that lunch time was in full swing. The place was bustling full of people. I made my way to Trinity College’s Old Library where I came up against every tourists’ nightmare. The queue.
I don’t mind queueing – I’m British after all. But there’s a queue, and then a queue that wraps almost around Fellows Square. It did not help that I joined the wrong queue in the first place – I joined the fast track queue. I’ll give you more details about fast track later.
Anyway, by the time I realised was in the wrong queue, and joined the normal queue, it was even longer. Luckily I made friends with a couple of Australians on the tour. I noticed them at about quarter of the way walking along.
A lucky break
We had a bit of chat, while mentioning what I’d done and had to go to the back of the queue. They took one good look at where the queue ended. Instead of doing the walk of shame, they kindly let me join them in the queue.
So all in all, I only had to wait 10 minutes to get inside. Bargain. I’d imagine the rest of the queue had to wait much longer.
My advice is if you’re going to the library, make sure you go before lunch.
5. You’ll learn how to read signs…and maybe the Book of Kells
When I was learning to drive, I was expected to know all the road signs that every driver will potentially come across throughout their driving lifetime. By the time I had my driving theory test, I pretty much memorised nearly all the road signs. Suffice to say that I passed the test. With the amount of road signs memorised (at least 100), I’d pretty much notice and recognise what each road sign is while I’m driving the busy UK roads.
Unfortunately I didn’t apply this to the situation I was in here.
After coming through the entrance to the Old Library building, the first exhibition I entered into was that of the famous Book of Kells. The exhibition hall is a large space dedicated to the origins and visual splendour of the Book of Kells. The exhibition was simply there to whet your appetite before you see the actual book itself. Despite the bad weather, it did not keep people from coming to this place. And you could tell from the throngs of people shuffling through.
No flash photography, right?
There were a number of signs adorning a doorway with a pictorial image of what seemed like a camera. No problem there. I know what this is. No flash photography allowed. So I walked through this doorway and into the room where the Book of Kells was located.
I saw a crowd of people all around this glass display in the middle of a room, all jostling to have a good view of what was inside. It was my turn to jostle. I could see a collection of three or four books. One of them was the Book of Kells. Cue the camera.
I managed to take 2 photos before a hand came out of nowhere and knocked the camera out of my hands. It was the exhibition security. He looked at me and never said a word. I was reprimanded by an American tourist sternly telling me, “no photography allowed!” I insisted the signs stated no flash photography, before another tourist said the same thing. It was only when I left the exhibition when I noticed that the camera also had a cross imposed on top of it as well as explicit instructions telling visitors not to take any photographs.
The moral of the story? Read signs carefully. If in doubt, ask.
So where are the photos??
In another world, I would show you guys the photos of the Book of Kells – it’s a beautifully made historical treasure. But out of respect for what it is and for the rules which I inadvertently broke, I’ve decided not to show them.
What is the Book of Kells?
The Book of Kells is lavishly decorated manuscript Gospel book written in Latin. It contains the four Gospels of the New Testament of the Bible. It’s believed to have been created around the year 800 AD by Irish monks (possibly four) in Scotland – thought to be in a monastery on the Island of Iona. It’s considered a masterpiece of Western calligraphy and is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.
The Book of Kells is largely a illustrated pictorial form of the New Testament. The beauty of the illustrations is such that they have been compared to ‘the work of angels’. There has been much speculation of the purpose of these illustrations. However, it’s worth mentioning that at the time of its creation, there were few people who were literate. So the illustrations were a way of bringing the story of Jesus Christ alive to those who couldn’t read.
Journey to Ireland
How the book came to end up in Ireland is a long story. However, the short of it is that it started when the Vikings began raiding the north of Scotland in the year 806. The monastery on Iona was ransacked with many of the monks killed. The remainder who survived quickly escaped to Ireland, taking the book with them. The monks eventually relocated to Kells Abbey in County Meath.
The book remained in Kells Abbey for the next 650 years until the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. During this time, the Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin arranged for the Book of Kells to be removed and relocated to the college’s library, for its own preservation and protection.
6. The Long Room at Trinity College Library is one the best things you’ll see in Dublin
Once I left the busyness of the exhibition, I made my way up a dark oak-coloured staircase to the Long Room. I’ve seen images of the Long Room before, so I kind of knew what to expect. So there was the obvious anticipation of what was coming. But I wasn’t quite prepared for my reaction when I entered the Long Room itself.
I was taken aback. I arrived and I just stood at the entrance. Not because I wanted to, but because I was stuck to the floor. For a few moments, I just couldn’t comprehend the vastness of this space. The barrel-style vaulted ceiling that seemed to go on for quite some distance. Shelves upon shelves of neatly arranged books stretching as far as my eyes could see and as high as the ceiling vault.
Out of all of what I’ve seen at Trinity College Dublin, I can honestly say the Long Room is its best treasure. Not only because of its ornate beauty inside from top to bottom. But also because of its inherent potential power to change the world through its most valuable assets: books. Books equal knowledge and knowledge is power.
About the Long Room
The Long Room at Trinity College Dublin is the longest single-room chamber library in Europe at 65 metres long (213 ft). It was built between 1712 and 1732 and contains over 200,000 of its oldest books.
Originally the Long Room had a flat ceiling, with only one floor of shelving for its books. However, by the 1850s the room needed to be expanded as shelves were already filled with books. This was because the Library had been given permission to obtain a free copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland.
Although Ireland is now fully independent from the UK, the Library still retains this right through the UK’s Legal Deposit Libraries Act. As a result, Trinity College Dublin remains a UK deposit library.
The Long Room is lined with marble busts. Many of the busts are of some of the philosophers, writers, and men who supported the college such as Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels).
The Long Room is also home to one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. After my experience in the Book of Kells exhibition, I thought it would be wise not to take a photo of this!
7. Trinity College Dublin used to only accept males to study
For some of us in the world, women being able to partake in educational study is something we take for granted and a given. However, there was a time when only males were being given this privilege.
Although Trinity College Dublin was founded by a woman, for three hundred years the college was a place of study strictly for males. It wasn’t until during the celebration of the college’s three hundredth birthday in 1892 that change began to happen. Ten thousand Irish women from groups such as The Central Association of Irish Schoolmistresses signed a petition. The aim was to persuade Trinity College to allow females to participate in college study and receive degrees awarded by Trinity.
Over my dead body
One person less than impressed was the current Provost at Trinity at the time, Dr George Salmon. He was recorded as saying that women would enter the college over his dead body. Ironically, twelve years later, when the first female entrant was about to take their first entrance exam, Dr Salmon’s funeral took place.
Despite admitting females into Trinity College, there were a number of restrictions placed upon them. Restrictions such as a requirement to leave the college grounds before 6pm and a requirement to be chaperoned.
Regardless, females excelled academically and over time as social norms began to change, the restrictions were relaxed. Eventually being abolished. Today, females account for over half of students at the college.
8. Students get free board and lodgings
Unless you’re well supported by parents, it’s almost a given that you’ll be working to earn extra pocket money to pay for necessities. Living in Europe these days is expensive, especially in the larger cities. Rent, food, travel, books, stationary, daily visits to the pub drinking 12 pints. It’s not easy and puts on extra stress on top of study and exams. Living in one of the most expensive cities in Europe doesn’t help either. With the cost of going to college and university in Dublin reaching €12,500, it won’t get any easier.
That’s unless you’re one of Trinity College’s top 500 Scholars.
According to my fellow English guide, if you make a pact with the devil and forfeit your social life and dedicate yourself fully to study, you can be a Scholar too. By showing outstanding achievement (however that’s measured) taking a series of non-compulsory exams.
Success makes you eligible for many benefits… including free room and board, the waiving of fees and registration charges, and a free carvery dinner with a pint of Guinness each night at the college’s Commons. Scholars can also order, or “demand,” a glass of brandy while sitting final exams, although there a few variations of the drink. Some say it’s wine, some say a half-pint of Guinness, and some say a glass of sherry. Whatever it is, you exams results will be tainted by alcohol.
Our English (not Irish) tour guide should know. Apparently he is one of those scholars.
9. There’s way too many tourists
The Trinity College Dublin tour limits its numbers for each tour conducted. If one time slot is filled, you’ll need to book a different time slot. So it’s quite nice when you’re walking around with an almost select group of people. There’s less of a crowd going on here. It’s when the tour ends that the frustrations start.
As with most tourist destinations, you’re bound to get a lot of people shuffling, dawdling and trundling along. That wasn’t the worst part. It was the constant stopping and turning around in front of you. Without any warning. And even the not moving at all when you need people to move so you can get to somewhere.
People just seem to get in your way here.
It’s not so bad when you’re in the open spaces of the college campus. But when you walk into the confines of the Old Library, it starts to become suffocating. And it reached its worst point when walking into the claustrophobia of the crowded gift shop. I found It was a constant battle to squeeze past every tourist while at the same time making sure you don’t knock over any of the displays around you.
If this is what it’s like in October, I’d hate to think about going there in the summer.
With the amount of tourist places I’ve been to over the years, I really should come to expect it by now. Which I do. But will I ever accept it? I complain a lot in situations like this, so no.
10. Conclusion: the Trinity College Dublin tour is good and bad value for money
The tour of Trinity College is everything you’d wanted it to be. You’ll get to see the main squares of the college. Stand back and admire the magnificent architecture of the surrounding buildings as well as the various sculptures dotted around. You’ll also stand in awe at the end of the Old Library’s Long Room gazing up at its vaulted ceiling. While all this time, you are being given snippets of history by the tour guide to give context to what’s being seen.
The combined tour ticket price of €15 also includes entry to the Old Library where you can marvel at the beautifully crafted 1,200 year old Book of Kells. This ticket price provides good value. If you were to buy tickets for the Old Library and the tour separately, you could be paying €20 at peak time. So it’s worth getting the combined ticket.
But it also wasn’t everything it could have been.
The tour lasted all of half an hour. I managed to obtain a map of the entire Trinity College campus. What the tour covered was not even a quarter of what you could see. Aside from the Old Library, you aren’t taken inside any of the college’s buildings. I know it’s too much to ask to go into every single dwelling, but at least show some glimpse. The tour finished outside the Museum Building – a fine Palazzo style piece of achitecture. Surely we could have been taken inside, if only to see a glimpse. It just seemed like the tour tended to brush over things a little too quickly.
Part of the tour ticket price included admission to the Old Library. But that’s all you got – admission. The tour could have been so much more if it actually extended into the Old Library with the tour guide giving more insight into the college’s best treasures inside this building.
Overall I found the Trinity College Dublin tour an interesting and memorable experience. It’s definitely one of the best historical places to visit in Dublin, if not, Ireland. If you’re planing a trip to Dublin some time, this should be one of the top must-see things on your list.