Apr 7, 2017

“The Real Memories are Made with your Own Friends”: Authors Tell Their Trinity Ball Tales

Drinks on the roof of the GMB, standing front row at the Pogues and lighting a stranger’s hair on fire are among the memories recalled by these Trinity graduates turned authors.

Kelly Meehan BrownLiterature Editor

Everyone loves a good ball, especially when it’s as dramatic and over the top as Trinity’s leading event on its social calendar, Trinity Ball. While the night may be a glorified outdoor musical festival in rainy Ireland to some, it is nonetheless one of the most important nights of the year for the College. Many past students who experienced the ball have gone on to have illustrious careers as authors, and can recount their own experiences of Trinity’s biggest social event.

Claire Hennessy is an author of multiple young adult novels, including Good Girls Don’t and Nothing Tastes as Good, whose upcoming book, Like Other Girls, deals with the topical issue of abortion. She also graduated from Trinity in 2009 with a BA in English literature and history. Continuing her education in Trinity with a master’s in popular literature and creative writing, Hennessy has had ample opportunity to experience this celebrated night. She finally attended in 2009, and, speaking to The University Times, she recalls how terrifying she found the experience, whilst offering some simple advice: “So many humans! Avoid random strangers as the real memories are made with your own group of friends.” Hennessy’s tips for a successful night of balling include not to chance sneaking in alcohol: “You will be caught. Try to hit that ideal ‘drunk but not too drunk’ point before being allowed in!”

William Ryan has had huge success following his graduation in 1987. With titles such as The Holy Thief, The Bloody Meadow and The Twelfth Department, Ryan’s latest work, The Constant Soldier, is highly anticipated. Ryan studied legal science, as it was known at the time, from 1983 to 1987 in Trinity, and attended the ball most years. He states his favourite memory was “seeing The Pogues play in the Dining Hall in my final year – I think Shane McGowan may have been the soberest person there”.


“I have a snapshot memory of The Pogues in a line on the stage and a swirl of people in front of them. I made the mistake of wearing a white jacket, which was pretty much ruined, but I didn’t much mind – they were superb, and I have that snapshot memory and it always brings a smile.” If only we were so lucky to see The Pogues perform today. Ryan went on to add that sitting on a bench in the early morning watching the sun come up over the Pavilion Bar (the Pav) is a particularly fond memory of his, when he “enjoyed the calm after the storm”. Ryan says the essential ball experience involves your friends who live on campus having a decent bacon sandwich for you when you show up in the morning, and most importantly: “Don’t wear a white jacket if the Pogues are playing!”

Andrea Carter, a crime writer who has produced works including Death at Whitewater Church and Treacherous Strand and will publish The Well of Ice in October 2017, studied law in Trinity in the 1990s, and fondly recalls Trinity Ball of 1991 in which she drank in the College Historical Society’s (the Hist) conversation room. The group then decided to move the party to the roof of the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB), and, as it was her final year, Carter recalls feeling hugely afraid of the future: “I remember looking out over College and the city and feeling desperately sad that a time I had loved was coming to an end.” Carter adds that the roof of the GMB is not a safe drinking place, however, and to avoid it at all costs.

Thomas Morris, author of We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, has possibly one of the most hilarious ball tales. Following four years studying English literature and philosophy, Morris remembers: “I only went to the ball once, and that was in my final year. In the queue going in, … my girlfriend, said to me, ‘Can you smell hairspray?’” She then lit a cigarette and “well… she set someone’s hair on fire – the girl ahead of us in the queue. First it was just a little bit of hair, and we both tried waving at it to put it out, but that only seemed to fan the flames. A moment later, the whole of the girl’s head was on fire. We tapped the girl on the shoulder and alerted her to the problem. ‘Fuck!’ she said, and everyone in the queue piled on top of her to get the fire out”. This story was received with a speechless reply from myself, as well as some inappropriate laughter. Morris assured me that laughter was completely justified, and stated that the important thing to remember while at the ball is to “encounter everybody with empathy and understanding – let us take caution when lighting flames”.

Author Belinda McKeon studied English literature and philosophy from 1996 to 2000, and loved Trinity so much that her 2015 novel Tender is largely set here. Trinity Ball even plays a wonderful cameo. On her own real life experience of the Ball, McKeon states that of all her years attending the ball, her favourite moments were “the walks home, or to the after parties, through early summer dawns in the sleeping city, all of us in our finery and full of stories from the night before”. Painting a picture of an image we all know well, it’s nice to see that the ball hasn’t changed too much throughout the years. Indeed, McKeon implores us to avoid wearing heels to the ball at all costs. Do it at your own peril.

These authors’ experiences range from the late 1980s to the not-so-distant past of the 2000s, and are a shining indication that Trinity Ball experiences are varied, wild and unpredictable, yet familiar in a visceral way that any attendee can attest to. Here’s hoping each of us with a desire to write will be approached by a future student newspaper who wants to hear our own personal tales. We all have them, as Trinity Ball provides nothing if not memories and tales to relate for years to come.

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