Emer McLysaght: I was a bogger at Trinity, maybe the world needs my novel too

Stand aside Snowflake and Normal People, I’m here with tales from the science block

Emer McLysaght: ‘I put Science in Trinity down on my CAO form because it sounded fancy.’ File photograph

Emer McLysaght: ‘I put Science in Trinity down on my CAO form because it sounded fancy.’ File photograph

 

The blurb on the back of my coming-of-age novel about travelling from the sticks to the Big Smoke to attend Trinity College Dublin would go something like this: “Emer, an 18-year-old console operator from Kildare is transported from a life of hay bales and men named Mossy to walking the hallowed halls of Ireland’s most prestigious university.

“There, she becomes unwittingly entrenched in the enduring Dublin/rural divide which sees well-heeled Dubs expecting her, a culchie, to not only recognise the names of posh schools but also know people who went to them.” 

The opening pages of the book might see our young protagonist dutifully asked by a well-spoken fellow fresher what school she went to. “St Mary’s College …” she starts, and her new pal looks confused because St Mary’s College in Rathmines is a school for boys. “St Mary’s College, Naas,” Emer clarifies and then panics.

I put Film Studies down second because I thought it sounded next most impressive and chose to ignore that you needed to submit a portfolio as part of the application

“We have two ping pong tables. Sr Bosco is rumoured to be over 100.” Her erstwhile new best friend has drifted off though, in search of someone who actually went to Gonzaga and doesn’t think it’s a name that’s been made up as a joke. 

“Console operator” is what I used to put down on my CV in my late teens. It meant I worked on the till in the local petrol station and held the esteemed position of authorising the pumps to dispense fuel. It just made it sound fancy.

I put Science in Trinity down on my CAO form because it sounded fancy. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and wasn’t ready to commit to either teaching or nursing. I actually put it down as my third choice. I put Medicine first because it sounded the most impressive and I thought maybe I’d get the points in an incredible fluke despite a very lax studying schedule.

I put Film Studies down second because I thought it sounded next most impressive and chose to ignore that you needed to submit a portfolio as part of the application. I put Science in Trinity down third because I was quite good at biology and I thought going to Trinity sounded posh.

There is nothing more boner shrinking than having to do a Benny Hogan on it to get back to the sticks by midnight

I was at work, console operating in the petrol station when I got the official news. My dad drove down to Esso with the envelope containing my offer and my boss was so impressed that he told every customer who came in looking for their Tiger Tokens that I “got in”. 

Trinity was a handy bet for other reasons too. Some of my friends had applied and we thought there might be safety in numbers. It was geographically close enough for a daily commute and, crucially, there was an unreliable bus service through my local village which deposited me at Bachelors Walk.

Geography would actually be a recurring theme in my Trinity novel.

Firstly, there would be the practicalities of navigating the city. For quite a while the route from the quays to the front gate of the college was all I knew, and deviating from it would be nothing short of terrifying.

The only other place I was familiar with was Temple Bar having taken the same bus up to Dublin twice a year as a teenager to hang around in front of Central Bank in black eyeliner and buy a pair of flares and red hair dye in The Eager Beaver.

As one of my elective subjects I attended seminars and tutorials with arts students and it was here I felt most out of my depth

As the weeks and terms went on it became necessary to lie to the cosmopolitan Dubs about knowing where places like Camden Street and The Red Box were and frantically try to figure out if you could find them, skull enough cut-price drinks and navigate back to the quays in time for the last bus home. By second year many of us were sharing rooms in tiny flats to avoid this dash for the 126. There is nothing more boner shrinking than having to do a Circle of Friends’ Benny Hogan on it to get back to the sticks by midnight. 

The geography of Trinity itself was a minefield. As a science student I was mercifully tucked away at the back of the campus in a world that was nothing much like that of Sally Rooney’s beautiful Normal People or Louise Nealon’s darkly funny Snowflake.

Their protagonists were English students and their patch was the fabled Arts Block. While the Science Block tended to attract a slightly more agricultural crowd, the Arts Block was full to the brim with people who had experienced “pre-Debs” parties and Leaving Cert holidays. Outfits and accents were very much “us” and “them”.

It was geography that brought me into the world of the arts block. As one of my elective subjects I attended seminars and tutorials with arts students and it was here I felt most out of my depth. They all just seemed to know what to do – how and when to answer the impossible questions and where to sit around the giant dining table serving as a classroom space.

It was like they’d had a crash course in how Trinity works and I was still back in Leaving Cert land drawing cross sections of the Earth’s crust, thinking I was great. 

My novel would end with me dropping out in second year – or Senior Freshman as they say in Trinners – having come to terms with the fact that I really should have studied chemistry and calculus for my Leaving before attempting them at university level. Not before I got a handle on the geography of every student drink offer across Dublin city centre though. Now that’s a real education.