Toast To Trinity III

Trinity College Dublin Alumni Association
The Albany Club, Toronto
Tuesday, March 10, 1987

Mr. Provost, fellow traveller Trevor West, fellow graduates and odd fellows who went to other institutions but who nevertheless are most welcome here:

Tonight we celebrate not only another Trinity occasion but also a trinity of visits to a Canadian TCD dinner by Dr. Watts. We are glad that he has taken the advice of a former mayor of Toronto, Allan Lamport, who once observed, "Nobody should ever visit Toronto for the first time." He meant, of course, in typical Irish bull fashion, that people should come back to this city as often as possible.

And for Trinity people, no visitor could be more welcome than the Provost, the academic head of the university whose toast I have been asked to propose — also for the third time on the occasion of a Provost's visit, I might add. As Shakespeare has said, "Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed. Thrice and once the hedge pig whined"

The presence of the Provost and Dr. West in our midst provides us sea-divided graduates with an all too infrequent opportunity to enjoy a Trinity night together, to meet again the boys who were boys — I am sorry, I'll start that again — to meet the undergraduate persons who were undergraduate persons when we were undergraduate persons, and to recall College days.

We enjoy these reunions. In this age of credit card living, the men who drank — sorry — the undergraduate persons who drank in debt of old, still drink in debt today. You'll have to forgive me. I was at Trinity at a time when it was virtually a male preserve. That was beyond the misty space of twice two score years ago, when women were banned from the premises after 6 p.m. and from membership of major societies such as the Hist and the Phil. It was difficult to exclude them from the Dublin University Players without reverting to the Shakespearean tradition of having all the parts played by males. Even the venerable board of those days conceded that a male student from the Royal Belfast Academical Institution or Midleton College in County Cork was likely to be miscast as Ophelia or St. Joan.

One woman of my acquaintance actually became chairman of Dublin University Players. As a matter of fact, she is sitting at the same table as me tonight 38 years after our marriage as undergraduates. Naively, we thought that two could live as cheaply as one.

Because of the broad spectrum of Trinity men and women represented here, it is impossible for the proposer of the toast to Trinity to give anything other than his own impressions of the university he once knew so intimately. I am indebted to a contemporary, Desmond Morton, who unfortunately cannot be here tonight, for a piece of memorabilia of our times. It is a grocery bill dated June 10, 1948, furnished by Thomas May, Tea and Spirit Merchant and General Stores, Park View House, Infirmary Road, Dublin, to three Trinity students who shared a flat on the North Circular Road.

1/2 pound of premium butter, 1 pound of sausages     4s 1d
a dozen stout                                                                6s 6d
1 small tin of beans                                                      1s 8-1/4 d
1 bottle of sherry                                                        15s 0d
1 pound of tomatoes, 1 bottle of tomato ketchup        3s 2d
1 dozen ale                                                                   8s 0d
40 cigarettes, 1 barm brack                                          5s 4d
1 bottle of whiskey, 1 bottle of gin                        £ 3 0s 0d
2 dozen stout                                                              13s 0d
1 dozen ale                                                                   8s 0d
1 bottle of whiskey, 1 bottle of gin                        £ 3 0s 0d
Total:                                                                     £10 4s 11d

As you can see, this trio had a proper sense of student priorities. They put thirst things first. The date of the bill, June 10, suggests it was Trinity Week and the triumvirate of Morton, Sheridan and Tunney were observing it in the spirit as well as the letter.

They liquidated their assets, which in their case, as well as mine, was a quarterly cheque from the British government in recognition of our having been on the winning side in the war. I might add, the bill was paid promptly the next day, June 11. The quarterly cheque must have arrived.

On your behalf, I would like to extend our thanks to the Provost and Dr. West for gracing this occasion with their presence. They come at what we like to think is the beginning of the end of a long Canadian winter and within a week of the feast day of our patron saint, St. Patrick. However, I should remind them that Canada is a country where many are cold but few are frozen. Canada also shares with Ireland a common nordicity, but at this moment I won't elaborate on the specificity of that nordicity for those of Irish ethnicity.

Although Canada is a relatively young country, Dr. Watts and Dr. West, you might be interested to know that Adam was a Canadian, eh? According to David Broadfoot, nobody but a Canadian would stand in a perfect tropical garden beside a perfectly naked woman and worry about an apple.

Personally, it is a great pleasure for me to greet Trevor West. I have known him all his life, though we never actually spoke to each other until about 10 years ago when he was a guest at a TCD dinner at York University. That Gilbertian paradox is explained by the fact that he was born in the summer of the year I left Midleton College, where his father Tim West was headmaster.

Trevor was known to the boys as young Lochinvar. What? Does nobody read Sir Walter Scott anymore? Amongst other things, Trevor's father taught sums at Midleton. Obviously, he had a more receptive pupil in Trevor than in me. Trevor went on to become a fellow in Mathematics. He was also Junior Dean at one time. They say old deans never die, they just lose their faculties. That, of course, is not true of Trevor. He still has all his marbles. In fact, he has been most prominent in almost every phase of College life. His contribution to sport in Trinity has been outstanding and highly appreciated.

Trevor was a member of the Irish Senate for a number of years, but has now retired from the political arena. As an ex-politician, he can now be termed a statesman. Had he been summoned to the Canadian Senate, he would have been guaranteed a job until he was 75. According to Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, "The Senate is the saucer into which we pour legislation to cool." However, Canada is also a land where politicians are full of quibbling rivalry. At any rate, Trevor assures us he is not currently in search of the Haughey grail, nor is he a Dessycrat.

In Canada, we believe in the three-party system — a party yesterday, a party today and a party tomorrow. With the multiplicity of parties that has emerged from the recent election, no doubt the whole week is given over to partying in the auld sod. Perhaps, Trevor will explain the specificity of that multiplicity.

It is a real pleasure for me to welcome a Provost who was a junior freshman — sorry, junior freshperson — the year I graduated. Tubby Alton was the Provost in my day, a classical scholar and a gracious, kindly gentleman of the old school. The one request he made to me, when I had the mandatory interview all new editors of TCD, the College miscellany, had with the Provost, was that I would not permit anything to appear in TCD that would cause a tear to drop in sorrow on a pillow at Trinity Hall. College women were a tougher breed in those days than Dr. Alton gave them credit for. They could put up with a lot and they did. One still is.

I understand that TCD is now defunct — the magazine that is, not the university. I remember I came to the job of editor fired with enthusiasm — and I left the same way.

Dr. Watts is a Dubliner, a botanist, who also took a degree in modern languages — no doubt so he could speak to the students in flowery language — an expert in quaternary ecology, whatever that is, a conservationist, a community-minded citizen and Trinity's first elected Provost, a position he has held since 1981.

It is indeed a pleasure to welcome our two guests, Dr. Watts and Dr. West. Sidney Smith, a former Principal of the University of Toronto, once said, "Change at a university encounters all the difficulty of moving a cemetery." That was true of Trinity in my day, when it was governed by a board, all of whose members had been born in the Victorian era, who had seen a great many changes in their lifetime and had been against them all. At that time, Trinity, like Canada in many respects, was struggling with a crisis of identity, clinging to a past that had vanished and facing an uncertain future.

As we will see from the presentation that is to follow, the winds of change have swept through Trinity and the university is poised to face a future of infinitely great promise and challenge under a leadership that has come to terms with Trinity's position in the Irish nation. Trinity is today perhaps more truly representative of that nation than in any other time in history and accessible to a wider range of Irish students than ever before.

We trust that it retains its international character and the individuality that was the hallmark of my time there.

As graduates whose roots are in Ireland, but whose commitment now is to Canada, we will always be grateful to a university of which we all have different associations and memories but for which we retain a common affection.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to charge your glasses and, in the words of Mark Twain, with the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces in his hand, to drink to Trinity and her future.

Jack White