Thursday, May 8, 2014

Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity

I am reading C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath, the most recent biography of the great man. I was tempted to buy it on several occasions, literally taking it to the cash-desk (till? check-out? What would you say?), then changing my mind and putting it back on the shelf. Now UCD library has acquired it, so I don't have to pay a cent. It's a fine book.

Since Lewis was a life-long academic, the book frequently mentions Hilary, Michaelmas and Trinity terms. I remember my excitement and relish when I saw those terms used in some literature about life in University College Dublin, when I began working there. (Or perhaps when I was researching the job prior to the interview.) I really felt I was stepping into a world cobwebbed with its own time-hallowed ways and words, heavy with the ghosts of generations of undergraduates and professors and dinner ladies. I didn't quite expect immemorial elms, moonlit quads or undergraduates climbing over walls to get in before curfew, but I was hoping for some approximation to that spirit.

Sad to report, I have never heard 'Michaelmas' 'Trinity' and 'Hilary' used as the names of the terms in UCD, in over thirteen years. Not once. I just did an internet search and see that they are mentioned on the websites of some college departments. I don't know whether that is a historical hangover or whether the terms are still oficially extent. I think it must be the first. We've had a lot of restructuring of the academic calendar recently, and our bullish former President (who saw university as a conveyor belt for business, and who has only recently been superseded) would surely have winced at names as antiquated as Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity.

There are some professors who wear tweed and smoke pipes, and I applaud their zeal. There are even rumour of a library ghost-- though I have never encountered him, and I suspect, since the story originated with a particular library worker (who I never met but who indirectly went on to play a prominent part in a national political drama), I suspect it was simply a ruse to get out of going down to the store-room, where the phantom is rumoured to reside.

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