When I was in my first year of college, some family members were visiting Dublin for the day and Trinity was top of the list of places they wanted to see. However my grandmother was disinterested in the traditional tour of the campus – all she wanted was a picture taken of both of us standing at Front Gate. As I am not one to say no to the family matriarch, I posed with Nanny for what was, in reality, no longer than a minute but what felt like an eternity, as a growing number of eager tourists and harried students congregated in front of and behind us.
I have no doubt that many of them were cursing us under their breath as we effectively blocked off access to and from the College. If there is one thing I’ve learned over my four years in Trinity, it’s that many students absolutely hate tourists.
I love giving out about Trinity’s inadequacies as much as the next person. Seagulls? I despise them and would not be sorry to see them all culled. The Trinity Education Project? Maybe the worst thing to ever happen to this university, or potentially the world. The price of a Trinity Ball ticket? Why there have not yet been Take Back Trinity-style, national headline-grabbing protests decrying this absolute abomination, I simply do not know.
However, I just can’t participate in the tourist-bashing that is rampant on campus. The contrarian in me wants not to – but I find them utterly charming.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over my four years in Trinity, it’s that many students absolutely hate tourists
Granted, I do have a lot of experience of dealing with tourists, so I think my tolerance levels for them are slightly higher than average. Having worked in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle and as a representative on a holiday resort for four months, I am accustomed to the blissful ignorance that all tourists seem to conduct themselves with. So when they spend an age deciding what overpriced coffee they want to buy from the Perch, or when they wander noisily into lecture theatres, I can’t say that I’m too surprised or bothered.
More than that, though, I think it’s quite special that people travel from far and wide to visit the college we frequent every day. Say what you want about the plummeting reputation of Trinity as an educational institution, it is consistently ranked among the most beautiful campuses in the world. When I see tourists taking pictures and marvelling at the architecture and artwork that I walk past on a daily basis, it serves as a reminder to take in my surroundings, and enjoy my time in Trinity.
Is it annoying when you’re late for a lecture and have to artfully choose your route so as to avoid being in the foreground of some American’s Instagram post? Maybe a little. But it comes with the territory of studying at one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. And yes, Trinity is a university, but there’s no denying that it is also a key feature in Ireland’s marketing strategy to attract tourists to the island. Tourism is an important part of the Irish economy, and Trinity is an important part of Irish tourism.
Tourism also provides a sizeable portion of Trinity’s stream of revenue. As the government continues to neglect to spend any money on the chronically underfunded higher education sector, students literally cannot afford to scoff at the fact that College is capitalising on spend-happy tourists.
More than that, though, I think it’s quite special that people travel from far and wide to visit the college we frequent every day
I don’t think that the interests of seasonal visitors should be prioritised above the needs of students – I was as offended as anyone when Trinity chose to close the libraries days before end-of-year exams, but the Book of Kells exhibition remained open for business. Nor do I think it is acceptable for tourists to ask to see the inside of your Botany Bay apartment or to tell you to put out your cigarette when you’re minding your own business on the Arts Block benches.
But, as with any group of people, you’ll have a few annoying characters who give the rest a bad reputation. I firmly believe that most tourists are just here to enjoy the sights, take a few pictures and spend a bit of money. Students should stop giving out – these are inherently harmless activities.
After all, we have all been the bumbling tourists at some point in our lives, gormlessly blocking busy thoroughfares or flagging down passers-by for directions in countries where we don’t speak the language. More to the point, many of us will bring family and friends back to campus after we have graduated to show them around the place where we spent our formative years. Hopefully, a lot of us will end up looking back fondly on our time in Trinity, and maybe we’ll want to bring our loved ones to the site of happy memories.
I know that my grandmother was delighted with the picture of the two of us standing together at Front Gate. She was, and is, exceedingly proud that I was accepted here, and the photograph captured a cherished memory for both of us. We inconvenienced a few people for less than a minute by engaging in classic tourist behaviour, but I’d do it again tomorrow.