Trinity College, Dublin

Founded by Queen Elizabeth I to "civilize" Dublin, Trinity College Dublin is Ireland's oldest and most famous college. The atmospheric campus is open to visitors, who walk in the footsteps of some of the college's noted alumni - among them Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett - and see the famous Book of Kells in the beautiful Old Library.


History of Trinity College

Trinity College was founded after the Reformation, in 1592, on the site of the confiscated Priory of All Hallows. For centuries, Trinity was owned by the Protestant Church and a free education was offered to Catholics, provided that they accepted the Protestant faith.

As a legacy of this condition, until 1966 Catholics who wished to study at Trinity had to obtain a dispensation from their bishop or face excommunication. Despite its 16th-century foundation, most of the buildings standing today were constructed in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

What to See at Trinity College

Trinity's grounds cover 40 acres. The extensive West Front, with a classical pedimented portico in the Corinthian style, faces College Green and is directly across from the Bank of Ireland; it was built between 1755 and 1759. The design is repeated on the interior, so the view is the same from outside the gates and from the quadrangle inside.

On the lawn in front of the inner facade stand statues of two alumni, orator Edmund Burke (1729-97) and dramatist Oliver Goldsmith (1730-74). Parliament Square (commonly known as Front Square), the cobblestone quadrangle that lies just beyond this first patch of lawn, dates from the 18th century.

On the right side of the square is Sir William Chambers's theater, or Examination Hall, dating from the mid-1780s, which contains the college's most splendid Adamesque interior, designed by Michael Stapleton. The hall houses an impressive organ retrieved from an 18th-century Spanish ship and a gilded oak chandelier from the old House of Commons. Concerts are sometimes held here.

The chapel, left of the quadrangle, was also designed by Chambers; it has stucco ceilings and fine woodwork.

The looming campanile, or bell tower, is the symbolic heart of the college. Erected in 1853, it dominates the center of the square. To the left of the campanile is the Graduates Memorial Building, or GMB. Built in 1892, the slightly Gothic building now contains the offices of Philosophical and Historical societies, Trinity's ancient and fiercely competitive debating groups.

At the back of the square stands old redbrick Rubrics, looking rather ordinary and out of place among the gray granite and cobblestones. Now used as housing for students and faculty, it dates from 1690, making it the oldest campus building still standing.

Trinity College is most famous, though, for its splendid library. The Long Room houses Ireland's largest collection of books and manuscripts; its principal treasure is the Book of Kells, generally considered to be the most striking manuscript ever produced in the Anglo-Saxon world and one of the great masterpieces of early Christian art.

The Books of Kells is a splendidly illuminated version of the Christian Gospels dating from the 9th century. It was once thought to be lost -- the Vikings looted the book in 1007 for its jeweled cover but ultimately left the manuscript behind.

In the 12th century, Guardius Cambensis declared that the book was made by an angel's hand in answer to a prayer of St. Bridget. Scholars think instead that the Book of Kells originated on the island of Iona off Scotland's coast, where followers of St. Colomba lived until the island came under siege in the early to mid-9th century. They fled to Kells, County Meath, taking the book with them.

The 680-page work was rebound in four volumes in 1953, two of which are usually displayed at a time, so you typically see no more than four original pages. (Some have taken to calling it the "Page of Kells.") However, such is the incredible workmanship of the Book of Kells that one folio alone is worth the entirety of many other painted manuscripts.

On some pages, it has been determined that within a quarter inch, no fewer than 158 interlacements of a ribbon pattern of white lines on a black background can be discerned — little wonder some historians feel this book contains all the designs to be found in Celtic art. Note, too, the extraordinary colors, some of which were derived from shellfish, beetles' wings, and crushed pearls.

The most famous page shows the Chi-Rho "XP" monogram (symbol of Christ), but if this page is not on display, you can still see a replica of it and many of the other lavishly illustrated pages in the adjacent exhibition dedicated to the history, artistry, and conservation of the book. You must pass through the introductory exhibition to see the originals.

Because of the fame and beauty of the Book of Kells, it is all too easy to overlook the other treasures in the library. They include the Book of Armagh, a 9th-century copy of the New Testament that also contains St. Patrick's Confession, and the legendary Book of Durrow, a 7th-century Gospel book from County Offaly. You may have to wait in line to enter the library if you don't get there early in the day.

The main library room, the Long Room, is one of Dublin's most staggering sights. At 213 feet long and 42 feet wide, it contains in its 21 alcoves approximately 200,000 of the 3 million volumes in Trinity's collection. It is lined with a grand series of marble busts, of which the most famous is that of Jonathan Swift. Above the library entrance are the carved Royal Arms of Queen Elizabeth I, the only surviving relic of the original college buildings

Originally the room had a flat plaster ceiling, but in 1859-60 the need for more shelving resulted in a decision to raise the level of the roof and add the barrel-vaulted ceiling and the gallery bookcases. Since the 1801 Copyright Act, the college has received a copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland, and a great number of these publications must be stored in other parts of the campus and beyond.

The Trinity College Library Shop sells books, clothing (including, of course, Book of Kells T-shirts), jewelry, and postcards.

Quick Facts on Trinity College

Site Information
Names:Trinity College
Categories:academic buildings; museums
Styles:Georgian Era
Dedication: Holy Trinity
Dates:18th-19th C
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:53.343788° N, 6.255341° W
Address:Front Sq.
Dublin, Ireland
Phone:+353 1 8962320
Email:[email protected]
Hours:Old Libary and Book of Kells:
Mon-Sat 9:30am-5pm; Sun (May-Sep) 9:30am-4:30pm, Sun (Oct-Apr) noon-4:30pm
Closed Dec 23-Jan 4
Lodging:View hotels near Trinity College
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visits (1999 and August 26, 2007).
  2. Trinity College Dublin – Official Website
  3. Frommer's Ireland 2005.

More Information

© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Miles Berry
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© Consuelo Puchades
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© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes

Map of Trinity College, Dublin

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