At the time of Trinity College’s foundation, the British university colleges were flourishing. Dublin’s new university was intended to be modelled on that same collegiate structure, with Trinity the first of many Dublin colleges under the umbrella of the University of Dublin. It was named after the alma mater of the first Provost and then Archbishop of Dublin, Adam Loftus, who had attended Cambridge University’s own Trinity College.
Loftus had spearheaded the campaign by a group of Dubliners who felt that the addition of a respected university would both bolster the Protestant Reformation in Ireland and bring the city – then developing into the country’s capital – up to speed with other European countries intellectually. This wish was granted by Queen Elizabeth, who ordered the creation of Trinity in 1592 at the former Priory of All Hallows in Dublin.
Although no other colleges of the University of Dublin ever materialised, Trinity quickly established itself as the seat of higher learning in Ireland, building up an impressive library and welcoming many students who would go on to become great political leaders, writers and philosophers of the future. Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift graduated from Trinity College in 1686, and philosopher George Berkeley – for whom the Trinity College library is named – earned his BA in 1704 and his MA in 1707, and stayed on at the college to teach Greek initially, then later Divinity and Hebrew.
Statesman and author Edmund Burke – whose mother was Roman Catholic – graduated in 1748. Protestant Irish republican Theobald Wolfe Tone got his BA in Law in 1786. Oscar Wilde was part of the class of 1874, studying classics there before proceeding to Oxford University. Samuel Beckett studied three languages at Trinity from 1923 to 1927. Women were only admitted to the college in in 1904, and since then its notable female alumnae have included Nobel Laureate in Peace Mairead Maguire and both of the youngest-ever Presidents of Ireland, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.