This is the lovely view of the north wing of UCC’s main quadrangle (or “the Quad” as it’s known) that I was presented with as I walked from the Library to my office earlier this morning. We have been having lovely weather here in Ireland (or in Cork, at least) as evidenced by the bits of blue between those nice white cumulus clouds. It’s that so very lovely sort of weather, cold and dry, crisp and cool. The sort of weather that seems to purify the air and charge it with an energy usually absent from that generally dismal continuum of greyness and wetness that is Irish weather. So, invigorated by my favourite type of weather I walked past the Quad and felt compelled to take a picture. UCC has several nice buildings, this being the oldest and by far the nicest. One might even feel, while walking past the Quad, that one was in a venerable and respectable institution of higher learning. Well, it does depend on what direction one is walking, for as I walked to my office there loomed behind me the horrible monstrosity of 1960s aesthetic ineptitude that is UCC’s library (named after our most prestigious mathematician, George Boole). Not too far off is the Kane Building, home to the science department and this too is singularly displeasing to the eye. The other buildings on campus fall somewhere between our beautiful quadrangle and our hideous science building in terms of architectural beauty.
This is now my fifth year as a student at UCC. I studied here for four years as an undergraduate and am now studying for at least this year as a postgraduate. I like the University in many ways, although things are different here than I might have anticipated when first arriving over four years ago. The institution largely lacks that intellectual atmosphere that I expected to find in a university. I had imagined that I might stroll into the bar at lunchtime to find young men and women discussing philosophy and literature over a coffee or a whisky, the lecture halls full of excited and inquisitive young minds yearning for learning. Things are, in reality, a little different. This is, I think, primarily due to a certain pressure in Irish society for a young person to finish school, get a degree and get a job. A university course is a means to an end, the end being a little piece of paper that enhances your chances of getting a better job with better pay. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it does alter the atmosphere of the college. I’m sure the same is true in most places, intellectual curiosity is probably as rare a quantity as it always has been. Of course, it’s possible that what masquerades as ‘intellectualism’ in most people is just snobbery anyway.
Still, sometimes when I walk past one of our beautiful old buildings I can almost imagine that I am back in a time when universities felt more like institutions of learning than degree printing factories, when professors and students alike wore silly robes and had funny accents. The glory days, when women weren’t allowed inside and a young man from a working class background like myself would never have been allowed to see the door either. Oh, the push and pull of progress.