Toast To Trinity I

Trinity College Dublin Alumni Association
The Albany Club, Toronto
Friday, October 20, 1978

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure for me to propose the toast to Trinity, and a rare privilege for all of us to have the Provost in our midst to reply.

Welcome Dr. and Mrs. Lyons to Toronto, Ontario and Canada.

Your presence here provides us with an all-too-infrequent opportunity to enjoy a Trinity night together, and to swap stories, mythical and otherwise, of our own time at College. Some years and many miles removed, distance lends enchantment to the view.

We enjoy these reunions. In this age of credit card living, the men who drank in debt of old, still drink in debt today.

The Trinity of 1978, of course, is a different place to what it was when some of us were students. And perhaps that's not a bad thing for those who remember the university when it had outdoor plumbing, and we had to burn wet turf in the fireplaces. At least it equipped us to face frontier life in Canada, and, conversely, to enjoy the conveniences and comforts of' urban living here. Canada, Dr. Lyons, is a country where, in winter, many are cold but few are frozen.

In my time women were not allowed within the College precincts after 6 p.m. Ladies who wanted to study in the library had to sign the book at the front gate and then sign in again on arrival at the library. They were allowed a half minute or so of amazing grace to scamper across the front square cobblestones in their high heels.

A risky alternative was to cover them in a rug, conceal them in the back of a taxi and smuggle them into one's rooms. One lady — who is not here tonight, in case you're curious about her identity — was spotted entering this way late one night, and was chased around College by the junior dean and his porters who nabbed her hiding up a tree in Botany Bay!

The junior dean at that time was NOT R.B. McDowell! If' he had been, that scenario would have been worth the price of the taxi and the penalty of being sent down.

The Trinity of my day was a bit like the Toronto of 50 years ago in its Victorian outlook. All the senior fellows had been born in the 19th century. They had seen a great many changes in their lifetime — and they had been against them all!

Trinity then retained many of the characteristics of a Protestant, Anglo-Irish bastion, for which purpose it had been created by Queen Elizabeth I. Catholics required a dispensation to attend. A friend of mine, who got a dispensation, told me that she wanted to go to Trinity because it was on her bus route and National wasn't!

In those days Trinity was -trying to accommodate itself to a changed political scene — and not very successfully. In 1943, the Irish Press had this to say of the College:

"It is not, to be sure, easy to change a tradition that has run in a single groove for centuries...It is well to be reminded, once in a while, that T.C.D. possesses a Gaelic Society...Trinity can, if it rids itself of' ancient prejudices and outworn ideas, play no small part in our great national work."

That editorial rebuke was grist to the mill for "TCD", the scurrilous College Miscellany, which never claimed to represent any body of opinion other than that of its current directors. Like the great journalists we were, we never let the facts spoil a good story. Unrevised and unrepentant, to evoke the spirit of Arthur Meighen in this historic Albany Club, but tongue in cheek, as if to confirm just how isolated many in Trinity were from the main stream of Irish life, the magazine ran this parody:

Four hundred years have well nigh passed,
The shades of night are failing fast,
Can aught avail our noble caste,
My Trinity?

They soon will come, a Celtic rout,
Athirst for blood, incensed with stout,
To throw our foreign culture out
Of Trinity!

Is this the working of' the curse?
Is this the Anglo-Irish hearse?
To hear the natives speaking Erse
In Trinity!

With curling lip and scornful eye
WE hear the Gaelic hue and cry,
We watch the peasants passing by,
From Trinity!

Our sneer of cold command still quells,
We've got the savoir vivre that tells,
We've got the blessed Book of Kells
In Trinity!

Spirit of Cromwell! Rise again,
And subjugate by sword or pen
These rude, uncouth, untutored men
To Trinity!

Well, that was 35 years ago. Much water has flowed under the bridges of Anna Liffey, and many pints of stout have been downed in Dublin pubs since then. I'm sure Dr. Lyons will give us a more realistic picture of the Trinity of today, with its indoor plumbing, its 1iberated women and its closer ties with modern Ireland.

And the time has come for me to introduce him.

His subject is history — and he's making some of his own tonight by being the first Provost to address the TCD Ontario branch. Undoubtedly there are some members present — without naming names — who read history at TCD too, and whose approach to the subject might be summed up in this short verse:

For four long years I've struthven
With the mystery of the history taught by Otway-Ruthven;
But I won't be bad
For the sake of my Dad,
And the hird I hope to be guthven.

I speak of those of us who got degrees d.c. — dentium cute = by the skin of their teeth; e.c. — examinatoribus clementi.bus=by the kindness of the examiners; q.c. — quis credat=who can believe it? or o.c. — ocellis compellentibus=by dint of a pleasing eye — a strictly feminine award!

Dr. Lyons' study of history was much more serious. He entered College in 1941. He was a scholar of the house and a first class moderator and then took his doctorate. From 1947 to 1951 he was a lecturer in history at what was then University College, Hull. He returned to Trinity in l95l and was elected a fellow.

In 1964, he became professor of Modern History at the new University of' Kent in Canterbury, and subsequently master of' Eliot College at that University. In 1974, he was appointed provost of Trinity in succession to Dr. McConnell and, in praise of younger provosts, at the tender age of 50.

Degrees and honours conferred on him by universities throughout the world are too numerous to mention here. They were conferred h.c. — honoris causa, which I don't need to translate, in recognition of his scholastic ability, and the distinguished position he holds in academic life.

He is the foremost authority on the Parnell period in Irish history, and his latest biography of that remarkable parliamentary leader has been universa1ly acclaimed. I don't know when the film rights will be released, but we hope the Ontario censor will not cut any scenes with Kitty 0'Shea. Yes, Dr. Lyons, we have a film censor in Ontario too!

The Provost follows in the tradition of great Trinity historians — Bury, Lecky, Curtis, Constantia Maxwell, Moody and McDowell. He also brings a new and invigorating leadership to an ancient and much-loved institution.

One accommodates to change and spearheads it, or is overcome by it. Trinity shall not be overcome. There are variable factors in any great institution, but there are also constants.

The story is told of an Irish mother superior who lay dying. The nuns gathered around her convent bed to receive her last message. First, however, in a frail voice, she asked for a glass of milk. One of the sisters decided to add a drop of whiskey to the milk because of her piteous condition. She drained down her milk. Then, speaking in a much stronger voice, she looked at the nuns gathered around her bedside and said: "Sisters, whatever you do when I am gone don't sell that cow!"

In Ireland, as your great predecessor, Dr. Mahaffy, once observed, the inevitable never happens and the unexpected constantly occurs. But come what may, Dr Lyons, look after that Trinity cow! She is very dear to us sea-divided, TCD Wild Geese the world over. Let no man fix the ne plus ultra to her progress to excellence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to charge your glasses, rise and drink to Trinity.

That place where Art and Science wed,
Where. scholars stalk and fellows tread,
The best of all is still ahead,
For Trinity!
Jack White