Gilded Youth

The Trinity Ball is an institution. Over fifty years old this annual party-turned-mini-festival dominates the lives of students before they self-incubate in the library in anticipation of stifling summer exams. It is a balmy mid-spring tradition to find a prom dress and suit up under the picturesque midge-ridden moonlight within the walls of the historic university. In theory it all sounds so urbane. However, the real Trinity Ball is a different beast entirely. It's more fun, down-to-earth with an after-hours run amok vibe. While the distant cousins of Oxbridge seem to actually enjoy midnight feasts, the famed and cobbled Front Square becomes home to busy chip vans. The statues of former Provosts glare down, probably envious at the warmth 2am carbs can bring.

In recent years the Ball has come under fire for its enabling mass drunkenness. Jessie J attracted young middle class ire when she tweeted after her performance at the 2011 Ball, "To see so many people so drunk they couldn't even stand. Girls unconscious and literally trampling on each other. It wasn't easy." As a former #tball veteran - I spent four years in the university - it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the bleary eyed stumbling across those cobbles. The dark stony corners are more likely to be home to crouching vomiting than brief-perhaps-romantic encounters. However I never did have a terribly messy night at the Ball. My memories are tinged with nostalgia rather than hungover regret. My Trinity Ball was forgetting to stick to the timetable because I kept running into friends. Meeting pre-ordained pals under the massive tree outside the Graduate Memorial Building. Smugly throwing on the tights I shoved in my small handbag at the last minute. My heart beating as we rushed to town from pre-parties to make it to the captivatingly illuminated Front Gate for midnight, the opposite to Cinderella as our coiffures artfully collapsed and shoes that wouldn't make it into photos were sensibly replaced. In first year I made the mistake of wearing heels. In second year I insensibly wore cheap and insubstantial flats.

It wasn't until fourth year I hit my check list stride. I lived on campus with my best friend and she continued her winning Houdini streak of sequestering pals on various parts of our apartment. We ran out to catch Trinity Orchestra and their Stevie Wonder renditions before the last minute influx of the prinking crowd. We raced back and forth to our apartment for cardigans and food. There was a very expensive clutchbag but at least it was far less cumbersome when all we wanted to do was dance. As regards styling we were final year and nonchalant. A €13 dress from a Topshop sale and commuting-office-girl runners did the job.

I've been two years out of college now, a veritable pensioner. Last Friday morning, the day of the ball, I found myself taking a detour through Trinity. The grounds were a patchwork of iPad snapping tourists, industrious men mounting the dance tents and students on smoking breaks before heading home to get ready. Aisling Bea, a former student and now actress/comedian says about her Trinity Ball experience: "I don't remember too much of the Trinity Ball, other than it was the economic boom and I'd painted my skin a subtle mahogany colour to show the world how well our young people were doing. Kate Moss was wandering around campus as Pete Doherty was singing somewhere and I was photographed for the front of the Independent drunk with my friend Mike O'Leary, who my mother was disappointed to find was not the head of Ryanair. My advice? Leave your skin the colour Jesus intended and bring flat shoes, crisps, a man with a jacket and a naggin in your knickers."


Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun

See Aisling Bea's website for details of her upcoming gigs.

Photographs by Ailbhe O'Donnell

The image newsletter