Sam the Trinity fox gives birth to five cubs on campus grounds

Lockdown ‘celebrity’ inspired one of Ireland’s best known poets

Sam, the fox living on the grounds of Trinity College Dublin, is now the proud mother of five fox cubs. Credit: Michael Gilna


Nature is healing. A year after being found on the street emaciated and mange-ridden, Sam, the fox living on the grounds of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), is now the proud mother of five fox cubs.

She gave birth in the provost’s garden under the prefabs on the university campus.

Foxes have been breeding in the area of the Provost’s garden since 2007, which is located at the corner of TCD closest to Grafton Street.

All staff and students are delighted and relieved, according to TCD zoologist Collie Ennis.

Sam became something of a lockdown star when she was spotted crossing a deserted Grafton Street last spring and was also photographed with a bird in her mouth in Temple Bar.

Her activities inspired one of the poet Derek Mahon’s last poems, A Fox In Grafton Street, which he wrote shortly before his death from cancer in October last year.

It has been published in Washing Up, published by Gallery Press, his last poetry collection. Mahon’s poem Everything is Going to be Alright became a clarion call during the early days of the pandemics. A Fox in Grafton Street is a meditation on a world turned upside down by the pandemic:

“Sam’s a celebrity fox, an online hero/briefly promoted to the infosphere,/his bold image shared by a world of folks/anxious, like him, for sustenance...”

Mahon’s publisher Peter Fallon said the poem showed “for all the classic dimensions of Derek Mahon, he was right up to the moment... He was utterly classical and utterly contemporary too”.

Sam had bad mange, which can be deadly in foxes, before being cured by antibiotics placed into her meat. She was also hit by a bus and survived.

“We didn’t know she had successfully given birth because we didn’t know how it would go,” Mr Ennis said.

Chair of TCD grounds and gardens Prof John Parnell spotted the little cubs’ heads sticking out from under a prefab in the provost’s garden.

Video footage was taken of mother and cubs by student Michael Gilna, who is staying in dormitories overlooking the provost’s garden.

“We are going to invest in more dog biscuits and cooked chicken for the cubs,” Mr Ennis said. “It’s wonderful news. It’s always nerve-wracking. Nature can be quite cruel. She shouldn’t even be with us. We are delighted in the college. It will lift everybody’s spirt because it has been a very long year.

“It’s great for us all. We look forward to the five of them thriving and surviving.”

Sam the Trinity fox seen in the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. File photograph: Eoin Hand
Sam the Trinity fox seen in the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. File photograph: Eoin Hand

College staff are providing her with dog biscuits and cooked chicken, but Sam’s partner, Prince, the proud father of the five cubs, has been regularly spotted bringing back dead pigeons and magpies to the den.

A Fox in Grafton Street

Broad daylight, and on weed-grown cobblestones

deserted by the pedestrian population

a fox hunts for discarded edibles -

fried chips, spare ribs or chicken bones;

but everywhere from Bewley’s to McDonald’s

is shut and shuttered for the duration.

Sam’s a celebrity fox, an online hero

briefly promoted to the infosphere,

his bold image shared by a world of folks

anxious, like him, for sustenance. Can a fox

not do its solitary, unorthodox

research without some human interference?

Desperate now, he quarters an empty strip

sniffing at every drain and rubbish tip.

This should be a great time for foxes

but there are no scraps, no pizza boxes

stuffing the bins so they overflow.

(The young aren’t going there right now.)

He’d be far better off where he belongs,

out in the country with its hens and ducks,

rabbits, field mice and other tasty things.

No doubt he’s puzzled since the very vox

pop barely whispers and the electric songs

are silent; but, in a shameful paradox,

there reigns a shocked euphoria during this

short respite, this enforced parenthesis.

We’re back in the days before we declared war

on the last outposts of resilient nature -

even, perhaps, in some oblique future

only dreamers ever dreamt before.

By Derek Mahon

From Washing Up (2020) by kind permission of the Estate of Derek Mahon and The Gallery Press