An imposing and surprisingly extensive architectural set-piece right at the heart of the city, Trinity College was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I to prevent the Irish from being “infected with popery and other ill qualities” at French, Spanish and Italian universities. Catholics were duly admitted until 1637, when restrictions were imposed that lasted until the Catholic Relief Act of 1793; the Catholic Church, however, banned its flock from studying here until 1970 because of the college’s Anglican orientation. Famous alumni range from politicians Edward Carson and Douglas Hyde, through philosopher George Berkeley and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ernest Walton, to writers such as Swift, Wilde and Beckett. Today seventy percent of the students are Catholic, and Trinity, though it also calls itself Dublin University, is actually just one of three universities in the capital: its main rival, University College Dublin (UCD), part of the National University of Ireland, is based at Belfield in the southern suburbs; while Dublin City University is in Glasnevin.
The main gates give onto eighteenth-century Front Square, flanked, with appealing symmetry, by the Chapel and the Examination Hall, which is the elegant, stuccoed setting for occasional concerts. On the east side of adjoining Library Square is the college’s oldest surviving building, the Rubrics, a red-brick student dormitory dating from around 1701, though much altered in the nineteenth century. In New Square beyond, the School of Engineering occupies the old Museum Building (1852), designed in extravagant Venetian Gothic style by Benjamin Woodward under the influence of his friend, John Ruskin, and awash with decorative stone-carving of animals and floral patterns. Further on, in the northeastern corner of the college at the Pearse Street entrance, is the excellent, new Science Gallery. Both thoughtful and thought-provoking, it hosts high-tech and interactive temporary exhibitions on all aspects of science, as well as an Italian café and interesting one-off events.
Other useful entrances to the college are at Lincoln Place (handy for the National Gallery) and Nassau Street. By the latter, in Fellows’ Square, on the south side of Library Square, the modern Arts Block is home to the Douglas Hyde Gallery, one of Ireland’s most important galleries of modern art, hosting top-notch temporary shows by Irish and international artists.