If you were ever to find yourself in the position of being an Arts student of Trinity College Dublin, it’s quite likely that you’d end up seated at some point or another in one of what are quite a few questionably named lecture theatres in what is officially known as (yet rarely actually called) Foirgneamh na n-Ealaín. Judging from the adversarial attitude of the various unionist organisations at Queen’s, the mere presentation of a building’s name in Irish would likely be enough to cause a mild yet substantial riot and several rather more violent seizures among senior members of the YU and DUA. One imagines the defiant Jamie-Bryson-esque erection of a wall-sized Union flag above the McClay library, quickly followed by an impromptu Orangeman’s march around the perimeter of the Lanyon to counteract what is undoubtedly a blatant assault on students’ British identity. Or perhaps the potential participants of this envisioned Loyal orgy would merely be erased, suddenly ceasing to exist as their entire personalities dissipated into thin air along with the last vestiges of the imperial culture to which they so dearly cling.
However, if the very same unionist students were to attend Ireland’s reputedly most ‘Protestant’ and ‘British’ third-level institution, they would probably find themselves hungover and/or falling asleep in Téatar Uí Chadhain, proudly named in honour of the unrepentant IRA internee and active revolutionary socialist Máirtín Ó Cadhain, or another lecture hall a few doors down which immortalises the ultimate Big Daddy of Irish Republicanism himself, Mr Theobald Wolfe Tone. While acting busy between classes, I often anticipate some confused Plastic-Provo Yank gone astray from her tour group will ask me for directions to the Bobby Storey Library while failing to adequately adhere to the very same social distancing guidelines she was harping on to me about a few moments before. The temperature of such a house would be so cold for the vocal element of QUB’s unionist population that it might be advisable for them to don an extra layer or too when in-person classes finally resume. The recent limp attempt at ‘vandalism’ in QUB by a certain socialist-republican sect seems little more than a crisp breath of cool winter air in comparison.
This said, the full title of TCD is and remains ‘The College of the Holy and Most Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth, somewhere near Dublin’, as one of the Deputy Wardens in halls gleefully told us in first year, dumbfoundingly unaware of the deep trauma doing so could cause to the unfortunate descendants of the victims of the OG Queen Liz’s multiple violent wars against the indigenous Gael in the 17th century. It’s a shame the university never bothered to erect a statue of her above the front gate. This negligence means us down-trodden Catholic natives have missed out on the great fun of tearing it down. Perhaps the Sinn Féin cumann could have stuck a few sticks of dynamite under it much like their forebearers did to Nelson’s column in the sixties, and as they would do to much of Ulster in the years ahead.
The only real candidate for posthumous cancellation is the rather intimidating looking limestone incarnation of the mathematician, theologian and unashamed misogynist pig, George Salmon, best known in the folklore of current students for saying women could enter the college over his cold, dead corpse. This they promptly did in 1904, right beneath the windows of Provost’s House where he finally kicked the bucket. As much as Salmon’s statue probably doesn’t belong in the front square of any modern educational institution, he is also one of the most memorable stops along the hugely overpriced tours offered by the college to wealthy foreign visitors, so I can’t imagine he’ll be leaving anytime soon. Then again, judging from the recent toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, he might prove more lucrative to the university’s bank account in the Liffey than on his plinth if his demise were to receive adequate international coverage. It would certainly be a much more exciting spectacle than renaming the Berkley library after someone who didn’t own slaves and less expensive than tearing down the entirety of the college’s 18th century buildings, the construction of which was funded by the doubly human-misery fuelled tobacco duty, an industry at that time heavily reliant on the labour of kidnapped and tortured black people.
Perhaps Trinity’s perplexing mix of British imperial culture and radical republican politics (with a token dash of the Irish language) is the ideal solution for the problems which today vex Belfast’s most esteemed seat of learning. If Lasair Dhearg’s clearly wholly serious and definitely realistic proposal of re-naming the institution after IRA royalty goes ahead, maybe we can reintroduce ‘God Save the Queen’ to graduation ceremonies and have a special rendition as Gaeilge during Queen’s rebaptism as the University of Mairéad Farrell. This would certainly be following closely in the footsteps of Trinity, where almost every large room in an entire building can be named (in Irish) after avid, foaming-at-the-mouth republicans in a college dedicated to a highly learned female British monarch who effectively destroyed the last remnants of Gaelic civilisation, which also denied entry to women for most of it’s 400 or so years of history. Somehow, down in Dublin we manage to make ourselves a ‘cold-house’ for royalists and republicans alike, while also being more than a little chilly to women and people of colour. Maybe rather than trying to please everyone, Queen’s should instead make itself as symbolically noxious to absolutely everyone as humanly possible. Or perhaps its students can come to accept that neutrality in nomenclature is about as unattainable a goal as a clean and definitive British Exit from the European Union or a well functioning power-sharing executive in Stormont.
Anthony Bradley is a student and non-foundation scholar of English Literature and Modern Irish at Trinity College Dublin