Being a Mostly Factual Account of an Adventure the Author Was Forced to Endure at the Hands of a Cohort Fondly Known as “The Whole Sick Crew” in Dublin, May 1978.
The annual formal ball in April (formerly in May) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is the last major event of the social season. Tickets are expensive. It is a long-standing tradition, amounting to an obligation in some minds, to economise by climbing over the back wall. Names in this report have been changed for the convenience of those who wish to deny - or don’t remember - that they were there.
The weary old hand of the publican
Waved toward the clock:
“Your glasses now, please, it’s past time to leave.
Come, boys and girls - amach.”*
Old Trinity grads and other fine lads
And lasses of every degree
Drank down their Guinness and Harp to the finish
For someone had plans for a spree.
Up then and spake the bold Limerick Rake
With a leader-like look on his face.
At the sound of his voice, all the hubbub and noise
Came to a stop in that place.*
“Right, boys, now you might know that this is the night
Of the annual Trinity Ball.
Which of you here has the courage to dare
To follow me over the wall?”
From hundreds of throats came the time-honoured boast
In voices well liquored and hoarse:
“We all to the man are yours to command -
If the girls will come with us, of course.”
This visiting Yank went along on the prank,
The soberest one of the lot,
To record as a bard for those who were jarred*
The valorous deeds of the plot.
We trouped out the door with the Rake at the fore
And stopped at TCD’s front gate.
“Look there,” said young Tom, and he lifted his arm,
Forgetting his valuable freight.
Billy-O quickly bent to prevent the descent
Of the Jameson towards its destruction.
Unfortunately, so did Breeda McGee,
And their heads met without introduction.
Young lads with passes and evening-gowned lasses
Were lined up the length of the street.
“Those fellows are daft,” said Tom with a laugh,
“For the fruit that is stolen is sweet.”
The Rake raised his hand and said, “Those who can stand ...”
For he saw that they were very few.
He continued, “...Will all carry those who can’t crawl.
My God, what a sick looking Crew.”
The wobbly parade with the Rake in the lead
Straggled round to the rear of the school.
Just off Westland Row there were others also
At the wall. Said the Rake, “I’m no fool.”
So we followed him round to Pearse Street and found,
As if it were destined by Fate,
A new building site that was closed for the night,
With a ladder beyond a locked gate.
Up over we went, every lady and gent,
Though the women wore long and short skirts.
“After you, girls,” said one of the churls.
The ladies said, “Oh, you’re such flirts.”
They put up the ladder, but what was the matter?
The ones at the top couldn’t see.
And those on the ground couldn’t hear any sound
But a splash - Paddy taking a pee.
Then someone said, “Shhh,” halting Pat in mid-stream,
And whispered, “There’s wardens around.”
The Rake took command and said, “I’ve a plan.
Come all of ye down to the ground.”
Down they all got. We set off at a trot
With the ladder back over the gate.
When all had climbed over, what did I discover?
I’m holding the ladder! Hey, wait!
Now I who was brought just to watch, as I thought,
Find myself at the head of the charge.
Says the Rake, “Have no fear.” But he’s at the rear
Of a mad Irish mob that is large.
So I run with no choice down the street till a voice
Hollers, “Left when you come to the lane.”
I’m running like hell and grateful the yell
Is drowned by an overhead train.
Round the corner we speed with myself in the lead,
Hoping to find no police.
But what’s that ahead? I wonder with dread,
For I’m surely disturbing the peace.
“Sure ‘tis only a lad and his girlfriend, bedad,
Trying to climb up the wall.
To the rescue,” I shout, and the words that come out
Sound Irish, not Yankee at all.
“Yer man, like, you know,” I say, trying to show
I belong with the rest of the boys.
The Limerick Rake whispers, “For Jaysus’ sake,
The divil take all of this noise.
“Up with the ladder and down with the chatter.
The invasion is set to begin.
Now over the top, and nobody stop,
Till this whole sickly Crew is within.”
The climb wasn’t hard, but Seamus was jarred,
And couldn’t find one of his shoes.
On his hands and his knees he went fast as you please.
He knew he had no time to lose.
Pretty Peggy was next, the flower of her sex,
Resplendent in evening array.
She climbed even quicker, afraid that her knickers*
Would show - it was dark, anyway.
The last one was me, for I wanted to see
If any policemen would come.
And just when I got myself safe to the top,
I heard someone thoughtfully hum.
A man and a lad, both officially clad,
Stood squinting up into the dark.
Said the one to his mate, “I think we’re too late
To witness the boys on a lark.
“Never let it be thought that the Gardaí* were caught
Unaware, it would damage our honour.
Enough of this natter.* Take down the ladder.
Victory to the Garda Siochána!”*
Back in Verse Number 8, we left with headaches
Billy-O and sweet Breeda McGee.
They’ve been off on their own for the rest of the poem,
Nursing their lumps over tea.
But now down the lane, heads together again,
They came strolling along arm in arm.
“Billy-O,” I called out. He looked all about.
Breeda jumped with a squeal of alarm.
“I’m up here, you dunce.” “Oh, how was the dance?”
“I haven’t been in,” I replied.
“The guards came around, the escape route was found,
And the ladder is laid on its side.”
“Sure you’re in a fine pickle,” said Bill with a giggle,
“You’re lucky we came by at all.”
He pushed and I pulled till the ladder was hauled
Out of sight at the top of the wall.
I leapt through the air to a roof that was there
And wondered if all the Crew made it.
A voice made me freeze - “Pint of Guinness, please.”
I saw it was Paddy who said it.
He sat in a trance, sadly wetting his pants,
So I let him continue his prattle.
I climbed down a tree to where I could see
That others had fallen in battle.
Young Thomas lay prone with his head on a stone,
Lovingly hugging his Jameson.
Two naked feet, like slabs of fat meat,
Stuck out of the hedge I found Seamus in.
I followed the trail of the heroes who fell
To the Quad,* where the music was loud.
There stood, broadly grinning, surrounded by women,
The Limerick Rake, looking proud.
I was feeling much bolder, till a hand on my shoulder
Told me I was caught by police.
“Come with us, sir. We’d like an answer
As to how you got into this place.”
“Hold on,” said the Rake. “You’ve made a mistake,
For I have his ticket with me.”
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a ducat
That made me both legal and free.
“Look here, my friend,” I said. “You could have entered
This Ball by the main college gate.
So why did you call for a crawl up the wall,
When you already had tickets paid?”
The Rake laughed and said, with his hand on the head
Of a fox with a smile on her face,
“Now you know that the fun and the thrill of the hunt
Is not in the kill, but the chase.”
I left at five, and glad to survive.
Some never recovered at all.
For no one stayed sober the night we went over
The wall to the Trinity Ball.
Amach: Irish for “outside”
“That place” is the former Suffolk House on Suffolk Street, now called O’Donoghue’s
Jarred: drunk from having consumed too many jars (portions of alcoholic beverages)
Gardaí: Irish police
Natter: idle talk
Garda Siochána: the official name of the Irish police force
Quad: the Quadrangle -- the main square in Trinity’s campus
You can hear the minor epic here.
“Over the Wall to the Trinity Ball” was first published in New Executive Magazine, Dublin, in 1981. It was reprinted in the 24 April 2007 issue of the college’s student newspaper, Trinity News. The editor at that time, Peter Henry, has “over the wall” tales of his own to tell in the 28 March 2011 issue of Trinity News on page 25.
Back to Over the Wall to the Trinity Ball and other poems