Monday, October 15, 2012

Trinity Tales. Trinity College Dublin in the Seventies
Edited by Kathy Gilfillan
Published by Lilliput at €20. Kindle: Not available.
Published in the Irish Examiner, 2011

I wasn’t at Trinity in the seventies, but reading the essays in Trinity Tales, I felt, almost, as if I had been. I’ve been regaled with many of the stories, at various parties over the years. I was in the Long Room Library on January 31st 1972, on my first visit to Ireland; as outside students gathered to storm the British Embassy after Bloody Sunday.

Some of the characters mentioned in the book used the flat I shared with other nurses, as their London doss house. Notably, Philip Bradley, who, the book recounts, ‘found’ a small bulldozer one night and drove it round the tennis courts, and down the slope to the Buttery.

Such tales are two a penny in this group memoir. Because in the early seventies, getting a degree came secondary, for most of the students, to partying and letting loose. Trinity was still a small university, with the reputation for the English, of being an alternative to Oxford or Cambridge. As the seventies drifted by, in a haze of booze and marihuana, and Archbishop McQuaid’s ban on Catholics attending Trinity was lifted, all this changed. And this is reflected in these pages.

There are 38 essays in all; many of them by people who have since made their name. There’s Paul McGuiness, husband of the editor; there’s Michael Colgan; Paulo Tullio; Dilly Keane and Roger Greene. Their stories centre largely on Players, with the accounts of productions such as ‘We’ve all Maid Marion,’ overlapping.

The lectures made less of an impression, though David Norris and Brendan Kennelly seem to pop up in many of these accounts. In some of the essays memories are a little hazy. Arthur Deeny, who graduated in 1978, says that he might be wrong about everything. His brother, Godfrey, remembering better, says he slept with six girls at Trinity, but only had sex with three of them.

If the first half of this book reads something like J.P Donleavy, the final section shows a new earnestness entering Trinity. Mary Harney’s account, 1972- 1976, is centred round debates at the Hist. Carol Coulter’s around the union. And even the glamorous Liz O’Donnell, as a mature student starting out in 1977, seems more focused on work than partying.

Dilly Keane’s vibrant chapter, contains a colourful memoir of a much loved friend, Mandy Walker, who drowned, tragically when still young. Robert O’Byrne dedicated his entire account to Alannah MacLachan, his adored friend, who died in 1982, the year after he graduated. This is a superbly written testimony that would touch anyone’s heart.

It’s interesting to see these characters develop from schoolchildren into a germ of what they have become today. Harney’s single mindedness, Colgan’s flair for the theatre, and Dilly Keane’s sense of comedy are all evident. Paul McGuiness signed up his first band at Trinity. ‘Spud,’ featuring Don Knox headed many successful gigs.

Trinity Tales will, of course, appeal mainly to those who attended the university, in the seventies, or more recently, but it has a wide general appeal. It highlights a time when students started off in suburban digs, taking the bus into town each day. A time when parties could last several days, and enjoyment was taken as a right.

©Sue Leonard 2011

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