Dublin in the Rare Aul Times: Discovering Dublin’s oldest university

by Lina Jans
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This week, Lina explores one of Dublin’s oldest institutions and learns about some of Dublin’s best known figures.

I thought Trinity was the oldest university in Dublin — I was wrong. My journey starts at Kings Inn Court, a 500-year-old law school that has changed alongside Ireland over the years.

Kings Inn Court

The court is located on the Northside of Dublin in Kings Inn Park. Here, you’ll also find the Hungry Tree, with a tree growing around a park bench, hence the name!

In the early days, aspiring lawyers were obligated to visit the courts in London, but having fought for their independence, they could use the courts here in Dublin. Since 1929, knowledge of the Irish language has been part of the entrance exam to Kings Inn. 

While the court supposedly doesn’t play a major role in the Irish law system any more, the school brought up one of the most famous Dubliners ever. Daniel O’ Connell who pursued a career as a lawyer before becoming mayor of Dublin.

I believe going to law school was a smart move for him: it allowed O’Connell to use his knowledge of the legal world and his position as a lawyer to fight for the rights of Catholics in Ireland.

The teacher and revolutionary Patrick Pearse, whose name is spread all across Dublin, is also an alumni of the school.

Two other famous alumni who caught my interest are politician Charles Haughey and Wolfe Tone, leader in the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Charles Haughey 

In the beginning of his career, Charles Haughey passed through several ministerial positions.

He was Minister for Justice, Minister for Agriculture and Minister of Finance. Haughey was prime minister of Ireland three times.

There has been a lot of controversy around his alleged relationship to the IRA, but on the other hand, people argue he did the best he could, during the times he was in power.

Whatever opinion you have of him, he was part of a period where a lot of changes occurred in Irish society.

He witnessed the Troubles in Northern Ireland, signed the Anglo-Irish treaty and contributed to the financial rise of Ireland.

It’s hard to break down his entire career, but there’s a three part documentary called “Charlie — the Rise and Falls of Charles J Haughey” by RTE where one can learn more about him. The trailer is filled with suspense, and I’m keen on learning more about Irish politics, so I’ll give that a go!

Theobald Wolfe Tone

Wolfe Tone is often seen as a man ahead of his time. Even though he was a protestant, he founded the Society of United Irishmen, which strived for Catholic emancipation.

His main motivation was to secure equal rights, so you could say he had a concept of democracy in his mind.

He went to France during the French Revolution, hoping to get them on his side to fight the English. He was to be hanged on 12 November 1798, but completed suicide before this. His grave is at Bodenstown Churchyard in Kildare.

The Dublin band, the Wolfe Tones, dedicated their song Bodenstown Churchyard to him and his efforts to free Ireland from the British rule.

In the city centre, you’ll find tWolfe Tone Park and the Wolfe Tone Statue in front of St Stephen’s Green. I especially like that it’s so different from other statues – I think it definitely looks more modern.

The Wolfe Tones

I think it’s impossible to top the Dubliners, but the Wolfe Tones put out many songs with historical content, too.  I’ve always been interested in history in school, but sometimes the learning methods were very dry.

When hearing songs, it’s easier to feel the emotions behind the events, which makes you connect with the history way more.

Surprisingly, the Wolfe Tones’ songs mostly have light melodies, even when the lyrics are tough — there’s always a hopeful touch to the songs, and a lot of the charming Irish traditional elements. The Dublin band was founded in 1963.  There has been some controversy about whether their songs are too radical. 

What fascinates me every time: I start reading about a place and come across all sorts of other connections to Irish history or Dublin personalities.  The city seems so big to me because I keep discovering new attractions, and yet so small because the famous people in the old days so often met other famous people, or their names run throughout Dublin today. 

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