Part of the community. Which community? Challenging perceptions of Trinity College Dublin using an oral history approach

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Part of the community. Which community? Challenging perceptions of Trinity College Dublin using an oral history approach
  1 Part of the community? Which community? Challenging perceptions of Trinity College Dublin using an oral history approach Paper presented at an Oral History Symposium in the University of Limerick, 23 rd  April 2010 Trinity and its Neighbours: An Oral History 1  examines the relationship between Trinity College and its neighbours in the south east inner city area of Dublin in the second half of the twentieth century. The participants in the oral history interviews were mainly people who were born and bred in the area surrounding the Trinity campus, some of whom came to work in the College. Some interviewees were asked to contribute because of the particular roles that they played in the relations between the College and its non-academic staff. In this paper I intend to concentrate on the perception of Trinity College as a Protestant employer in a mainly Catholic community. The questions raised in the title to my paper reflect some of the ambiguities that I encountered when I conducted the oral history interviews on which Trinity and its Neighbours   is based. There were frequent references to ‘community’ but it was obvious that a shared meaning of the word could not be taken for granted, especially in the context of a connection to the College community. From its srcinal conception in the late fifteenth century as a symbol of Dublin city’s loyal Protestantism, that ethos was fostered in Trinity College through the subsequent centuries. The institution that employed many of the contributors to this oral history was  perceived by many of them to have evolved into an emblem of British rule in Ireland, as well as a centre of ascendancy privilege. By the second half of the twentieth century, there was no longer a need for an ideological bastion of Protestantism in the Republic of Ireland and the University of Dublin was now one of many august higher education establishments in the country. Nevertheless, Charlie O’Callaghan , who was born into a local Catholic family in the early 1960s, in his childhood shared a perception of Trinity with many of his neighbours: I lived in a particular area, Boyne Street, up to the age of twelve and Trinity College was a place that was threatened on children that they would go if they were bold, it was a place that we’re going to send you up there or the ‘Smyleys’  [local orphanage] . It’s full of Protestants, you know, that’s what you were threatened with and then we left there and we moved to another complex in the area. ... College was always a myth where I grew up in the two places because in one area if you were bold you were threatened with it, you know, it was the last Protestant bastion and the real old people  –    I remember the real old people calling it ‘Little Britain’.  The dread of the place was by no means universal and Betty Ashe remembered bringing her children into College Park when they were young. Betty was one of the founding members of the St. Andrew’s Resource Centre and has been working for years to improve the Docklands and Pearse Street areas of south east inner city Dublin. Part of that work has involved her in negotiations with the College authorities about a number of issues, not least their responsibilities as neighbours, but she maintained that it is a false perception that local people were not welcome on the campus: 1  Mary Muldowney, Trinity and its Neighbours. An Oral History . Trinity College Dublin, 2009.  2 You hear a lot of people saying that, that they weren’t allowed. You weren’t allowed? Sure who was stopping you? The gateman was never going to say ‘what’s your  business?’ because he was probably local anyway.  Mary Leahy came to work in the Catering Department in the early 1990s and she conceded that the exclusion was probably more of a perception than a reality but she explained why she thought that perception had developed: In growing up, believe it or not, I never set foot inside Trinity College until I came for my interview, even though I grew up beside it. It was obviously to be this walled  place that wasn’t for ‘our kind’   or ‘our likes’ or whatever. …  that would be the  perception. I mean the history would have been known that it was srcinally a college that was under the Queen and under British rule and that like, no Catholics were allowed to go to it and all that type of thing and the place for normalised people, as such, Dublin people, would be UCD. So it was more a perception than being actually told that. There is a marked similarity in many of the interviewees’ stories about their first introduction to work in Trinity College, particularly in the 1950s and the following three decades. The College was considered a ‘safe’ empl oyer in that jobs were offered on a  permanent, pensionable basis for the most part, once a probationary period had been completed. Family and neighbourhood networks played a vital part in letting local people know that there were jobs available and personal recommendations obviously had a positive influence on the people who were conducting interviews and making decisions about who to employ. The extent to which there was a policy of specifically recruiting Protestants is difficult to gauge because there certainly seems to have been a significant number of Catholic workers even before the ‘ban’ was lifted on Catholic students entering the College. Without access to the personnel records it is impossible to work out the actual numbers and there is currently an embargo of seventy years on such records for confidentiality reasons. Charlie Webb noted that when he first took up his job as a Porter in the College in 1953, only Protestants were employed in that capacity, but there was a practical reason for the policy: You know you had to be in the Church of Ireland to be a porter here because you had to do services and Roman Catholics weren’t allowed to go in and that was the whole reason. Of course, that changed when the ban was lifted but I was always amazed when I came into the College because I found so many Roman Catholics. Charlie O’Callaghan was introduced to his job by a Protestant relative and the assumption was made that he must be Protestant too: I was in Trinity a good six months and I was sent for one day by the Lady Superintendent of the day and she asked me how was the new widow doing and I said ‘I’ve no idea’. She says ‘what do you mean?’ she says ‘sure you’d see her at Service on a Sunday’. Because I actually came in over people and I didn’t know the first thing about catering; I didn’t even know there was fish forks, this fork, that fork or the other fork; it was just a knife and fork. So I came in over people and they sent me for training and all that so, I went up and I says ‘well,   I haven’t seen her but I’ll ring her, I’ll get my  3 mother to ring her this evening’. She says ‘but do you not see her at Service?’ and I said ‘no’. She says ‘do you go to church?’ and I said ‘yeah’ and she said ‘what church do you go to?’ I said ‘the one on the quay, the Immaculate Heart of Mary’ and she went ashen faced. She says ‘you’re ...’ and I said ‘yes, I’m Roman Catholic’ and that was the  day I found out where the dishwasher was and I got demoted that day. Several members of staff who were employed by the College in the 1960s and 1970s came from Catholic families but were not asked about their religious affiliation at their job interviews. They discovered afterwards, however, that other staff members had made assumptions about them according to the area in which they were working. For instance, a Catholic secretary who worked in the West Theatre administrative offices during the 1970s was surprised to be told after she had moved to another part of College that only ‘Prods’ worked around the Front Square area because that was where the most important administrative offices were situated. Family networks were important as mechanisms for introducing new staff to the College and in some cases those connections lasted through generations. Both of Iris Bed ford’s parents were working for the College Library when they met but her family connections went back even further than that: Well, both my grandfathers, both my parents’ fathers worked in Trinity. My mother’s father, whose name was George Fox was a gardener in the College Botanic Gardens which were out in Lansdowne Road. Iris’s father was Cyril, who worked for the College for over fifty years until his retirement in the early 1990s. Her mother had been a secretary in the Library although she left when Iris was born. Iris herself started work in the College in 1980 when she came in to take up a temporary post as a Library Assistant. She did not remember but thought it was likely that her father had told her about the vacancy. Iris’s cousin Philip Be dford also works in the Library. The jobs network seems to have related mainly to the type of work that was being done rather than any other consideration. If a family member worked in the Library that was where recommendations had effect. Similarly, if a person worked in the Catering or Housekeeping Departments, then others could be introduced into those areas. This meant that some areas or grades were staffed primarily by co-religionists but not necessarily because of any College  policy in that regard. If there was a belief that a ‘closed shop’ operated in Trinity in favour of workers from Protestant backgrounds, there is no doubt that Catholic clerics helped to foster the idea that it was not an appropriate place for Catholics to be, whether as students or as employees. The ‘ban’ , which forced Catholic students to apply to their local bishop for  permission to register in Trinity was not lifted until the late 1960s.   John Grahame was employed by the Buildings Office in the 1960s after working for some years as a Clerk of Works with a major building company. He was the first Catholic to occupy a managerial position in the Buildings Office and he discovered that his recruitment was resented by the general operatives, who were all Protestant at that time: In my day, the most influential fellow in the place was a fellow called Moody. ... I went in to the office one day and Hugh said to me ‘John, go down and see Theodore Moody, he’s down in New Square, down at the end there’. …  So I went down and I went in and he sat me down. So he said ‘how are you getting on?’ I said I’ve no problems,  4 Professor, to my knowledge anyway. He said ‘well, if you do, I want you to come directly to me’. ... Well, the funny thing is, a lad, a fellow called Jimm y Bell in the B uildings Office … he knew Theodore, so …  I said to Jimmy then what happened. So he said John, I can give you the story of that. There was a couple of them here wrote a letter to him and he didn’t reply to them. It was unlike Theodore not to reply. He  [Jimmy] said he did reply  –   he called you in. Joy Simpson was the Deputy Lady Superintendent during the 1960s, until she left her  job when she got married. This was not because Trinity operated a marriage bar but because it was what most young women did in 1966. One of her duties while she was working in Trinity was to interview candidates for work in the kitchens, and she recalled that most of them came from the local area: Yes, they would come in for interviews, you know? And we had wonderful staff. Ah, little dears, they really were marvellous and they were all local, you know they all lived very, very near, a lot of them. … Oh yes, if they had a daughter or somebody they could recommend you would certainly give them a good ear because you know, they were the sort of people who were interested. At the time the Catering Department provided about fifteen hundred meals a day, between the various services, from breakfast and lunch buffets to waiter service meals and Commons. The  permanent staff worked extremely hard during term time on the understanding that it would  be an easier workload during the vacation. However, many of the kitchen assistants were hired on a term time basis so that they were let go during the vacations and did not get the  benefit of paid time off. Trinity College has benefited from an extraordinary level of loyalty from the so-called ‘ancillary’ staff. This is a term used in official reports about the higher education sector. It includes staff who are neither academic, administrative, library or technical, such as catering and cleaning workers, groundsmen, general operatives, mail workers, secretaries and security staff. Many of the interviewees who are members of the ancillary grades referred to the College ‘community’ or ‘family’ and give their interpretation of the collegiality that they take from this as the motivation for the extra, often unpaid work that they have contributed over their years of employment. Susan Kirwan was the first female Security Guard in Trinity, although she has now moved to the Facilities area, and she explained the loyalty in these terms: We knew it [Trinity College] was there but I think once you cross through those gates, you know like when you’re permanent and you’re working and you get to  know everybody, it is like a community. … you come in and you treat it just like a job, you’re just out to get your wages, you clock in and you clock out and that’s it, you have no heart. The neighbourhoods immediately adjacent to Trinity College changed considerably during the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty first,  particularly in terms of private housing in the area. There is continuing social exclusion, however, and the College has based some of its interaction with the local community on countering the impact of that social exclusion on education and consequent employment opportunity.  5 As an employer in the second half of the twentieth century, Trinity College compared very well with other large institutional workplaces, particularly in the period from the 1950s to the 1980s when there was high unemployment generally and particularly in the inner city areas of Dublin. The College does not seem to have been perceived as a source of employment for its neighbours that could be taken for granted, unless potential employees already had a family member or acquaintance who was in a position to inform them when a vacancy arose. John Augusta benefited from a family connection to get work in Trinity during the 1990s and he identifies himself completely with his job and the department where he is employed, which is on an off-campus site: Things had to be done, whether they were part of your criteria or not, you had to decide well I’m going to do this or I’m not goi ng to do it. I just sit down and I look around and say well that has to be done, so do it. I don’t go searching to see well am I supposed to do it, is that part of my job? That’s not the way we work here. We’ve always worked as a team in this building and if there’s something to be done, we do it. … when I came into College the ‘them’ and ‘us’ had sort of come onto a more even playing field. I mean, down here there is no ‘them’ or ‘us’, everyone is equal in this building, no matter how high or how low you are, everybody is equal in this building. Within the College boundaries there is a strong sense of community, although the definition of who belongs to that community tends to vary according to the perception and  position of the person who is describing it. One of the speakers at the launch of Trinity and its  Neighbours  took exception to some of the stories suggesting that there was religious favouritism in the College and failed to recognise that those accounts stressed that bias was only exhibited by individuals or small groups rather than claiming it was a result of Trinity  policy. The person concerned had been a member of the academic staff and came from a well to do Protestant family and was unlikely to have experienced the sort of discrimination on religious grounds that was described by some of the interviewees. When challenging the interviewees’ accounts he suggested that a ‘properly historical’ consideration of Trinity College’s relations with its neighbours would be timely, clearly preferring to disbelieve the testimony of real, living witnesses rather than reconsider his own perception of the College community. From the point of view of most of the contributors to this project who were employees of Trinity, their sense of community arose from their relations with their fellow workers in whatever department they were working in, rather than an overarching commitment to the institution. What cannot be denied, however, is the longevity of the employment records, with most of the interviewees talking about periods of at least twenty or thirty years in which Trinity was their employer and some with many more years than that to suggest their overall satisfaction with their workplace. Despite suffering discrimination on many occasions during his thirty years employment with Trinity College , Charlie O’ Callaghan summed up what it meant to him, which was consistent with most of the other interviewees: Well it’s all under the bridge. I remember saying like I’ve seen half of them come in to the place , I’ll see them out. That’s always been my attitude. … It wasn’t a bad experience all the time really, obviously it couldn’t have been because I’m still here.
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