If you were to tell the traditionally heartwarming, all-American tale of college life, it would probably closely resemble Michael McDermott’s journey through Trinity. A shy young man from Waterford, he slowly emerged from his shell to leave an undeniable and unprecedented mark on Trinity’s popular culture. Having skewered and lampooned everything from the Provost’s love of commercialisation to the activist culture that has become so uniquely Trinity, students quote Michael McDermott and his Trinity Collidge Facebook page with an almost religious fervour – not that you would know to meet the man.
Despite running one of College’s most recognisable Facebook pages, McDermott revels in the unremarkable, thriving on an understated persona.
He arrives 10 minutes early for our meeting in Costa on a rainy Dublin afternoon, hastily dressed in tracksuit and T-shirt. He sheepishly attributes his shabby attire to his girlfriend kicking him out of their apartment on short notice as she packed for a trip home, seemingly thinking that the process would run smoother in the absence of Trinity’s joker-in-chief. He shrugs his shoulders, adopting a deadpan expression that sarcastically suggests such an absurd proposition would never have occurred to him.
Despite his status as a fixture of campus life, McDermott took a while to find his feet at Trinity, experiencing significant anxiety as he transitioned from the familiarity of home to the pace of Dublin life. McDermott admits that the transition was made harder by his “incredibly introverted” nature. Like many before him, the pull of the party culture that dominates Trinity Hall didn’t come naturally to him. It meant that Dartry never felt like home to McDermott. “I never really grew into it, and I kind of started developing a bit of anxiety about the whole thing. I was thinking other people are fitting in and I’m not. What’s going on? I started freaking out a bit.”
There’s a striking difference between the shy first-year student that McDermott describes and the confident character that set Trinity ablaze with his occasionally zany, but inevitably sharp, sense of humour during last year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections. It never stretches to arrogance, but there is an easiness to McDermott, an undeniable comfort in his own skin that hasn’t come naturally. It’s a characteristic that developed slowly, perhaps unsurprisingly emerging in tandem with his meticulously crafted comedic style. “In third year I did stand-up comedy with the Comedy Society. It’s really cool. They do these stand-up classes, so an actual professional comedian comes in and helps you write material. So I did one gig in first year and another in second year, which helped my confidence.”
If you feel like you’re not fitting in anywhere in the first few months it’s not something that necessarily happens quickly
Quickly, the Trinity Collidge page emerged as the prime vehicle for McDermott’s newfound comedic confidence. “That all culminated when as a joke I decided I’d run for the presidency and that was the moment I decided I was actually comfortable in my own skin for once. So it took a while, and it was actually in my fourth year in college I finally became confident.”
When I ask about the highlight of his time in Trinity, McDermott doesn’t hesitate: “That second hustings during the elections, or at least the coverage after it anyway.” McDermott said he saved all articles written about him during the elections. “I started a spin-off page for my own things, and I used the quote that described me as “bespectacled and willfully shabby”, he laughs.
When you think of Trinity, the admin is shitty, and the people in charge are trying to take as much money as they can, but Trinity fundamentally is the students that go here, and you’re gonna find some amazing people here
As we discuss his campaign, McDermott has me in stitches, noting parallels between his campaign and another well-documented presidential candidate. “I think I was very Trumpish”, he says, only half joking. “I was reading Fire and Fury, and that seemed to be what happened to him. He ran so it would help him start a network, and he won, so he was like ‘oh no, now people have elected me maybe I am meant to be President’. Hopefully, I would have worked out better though.”
From his perch as Trinity’s leading satirist, there are few people better placed to give an assessment of Trinity than McDermott, and his, overall, is overwhelmingly positive: “When you think of Trinity, the admin is shitty, and the people in charge are trying to take as much money as they can, but Trinity fundamentally is the students that go here, and you’re gonna find some amazing people here.” There is an undeniably sentimental streak to McDermott, and he touchingly reflects that “I don’t think I’d have grown as much anywhere else”.
You can’t compare yourself to the people that you meet who seem to have spent every second of their life doing something productive. Those people who are multi-talented. I think that’s a small proportion of Trinity.
His closing advice to first-year students is typically poignant. “You can’t compare yourself to the people that you meet who seem to have spent every second of their life doing something productive”, he says. “Those people who are multi-talented. I think that’s a small proportion of Trinity. There are a lot of people like you or I who come from somewhere far from Dublin and don’t know anyone and are like ‘look at all these people who have accomplished something’ and feel bad by comparison. It took me four years to find myself here.”
But McDermott assures that despite a growing student population and an abundance of societies, you will find your home at Trinity: “You’re going to find a niche for yourself, find a talent you never had, find people like you. It doesn’t happen automatically.”
“If you feel like you’re not fitting in anywhere in the first few months it’s not something that necessarily happens quickly. It took me a few years of going to different societies and seeing if this works for me. I did things I’d never considered doing. I even took up knitting, which is brilliant”, he smiles.
“But that’s what college is”, he continues after a brief pause. “Putting yourself out to do things you haven’t done and eventually you will find something that does stick, that you are really good at. That will get you the feeling ‘I’ve got something to be proud of’.”