DUBLIN The College and the City

One of the oldest cities in Europe, Dublin’s settlement spans over 1000 years. The collections of Trinity College Library offer fascinating glimpses of that vibrant history. They reflect the everyday economic, social and intellectual concerns of Dubliners throughout the centuries, whether they were scholars, patriots, rebels, churchmen, politicians, landowners, servants or students.
Since its foundation in 1592, Trinity’s identity has become inextricably linked with that of Dublin, and the College’s archives illustrate this relationship.
Intended as a celebration of city life, the current exhibition in The Long Room, Trinity College Library, provides a rich view of life in Dublin based on the words and experiences of generations of citizens of, and visitors to, the city. It begins with manuscripts generated by the Anglo-Norman administration when Dublin emerged as the capital of Ireland, progressing through 700 years of change and renewal (1250-1950).
Medieval Dublin
Today Trinity College is very definitely in the heart of Dublin, but it was described in its Elizabethan founding charter as ‘The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, near Dublin’, or iuxta Dublinum. It lay outside the walled part of the city, clearly visible in the detail of Dublin from John Speed’s map of 1610. During this early period Dublin continued to develop as an important religious and economic centre with a rapidly expanding municipal government.
Ireland’s long history of rebellion has left an indelible mark on Dublin. Among the exhibits are extracts from the 1641 Depositions, comprising over 3000 personal statements taken from Protestant settlers in the aftermath of the uprising by the Catholic Irish. During the rebellion of 1798 United Irishmen plotting independence were to be found throughout Dublin.
The papers of the Dublin chief of police for the period, Major Henry Charles Sirr, contain the statements of both informants and insurgents. The advent of photography allowed Dubliners to record momentous events, particularly that of Easter Week 1916, during which British troops occupied the College. Those caught up in the crisis also recounted their experiences in letters and journals.
A flourishing tourist trade developed in Dublin during the Georgian period. Guides to the city evolved from early personal travel journals to the more practical guides of the 19th century. Visitors to Dublin, especially those from abroad, flocked to the International Exhibitions of the later 19th century, which were some of the most popular, celebrated, and expensive public spectacles of the day.
As for Trinity College itself, since its construction in 1732, Thomas Burgh’s magnificent Library has become one of the city’s principal attractions. The 19th century saw a surge of interest in Irish history and antiquities, and the public display of the Book of Kells made the Library a popular tourist attraction.
Culture in the City
Dublin city features strongly in the works of a range of authors, poets and playwrights, as if it were a character in its own right. It has also been an inspiration to artists and craftsmen. Among the exhibits are the exquisite designs created by the Harry Clarke Studio for a number of public buildings in Dublin.
The musical character of the city spans all aspects of Dublin life, from popular street ballads, to the work of prominent classical composers such as George Frederick Handel. It was in Dublin’s Fishamble Street in Dublin in 1741 that Handel staged the debut performance of the Messiah oratorio.
Ita Marguet, February 2010
Note: Acknowledgement is given to content of exhibition brochure Dublin The College and The City 1250-1950, The Long Room, Trinity College Library Dublin (5 November 2009 – 3 May 2010).