The Arts student haven that was ‘The Trap’ is no more – Elizabeth O’Malley looks at thirty-five years of the beloved pool hall, from its legendary beginnings to its eventual closure
For so long an integral part of studying Arts at UCD, the Trap has now been emptied of its pool tables and is to be used, pending the completion of the Student Centre, as a temporary facility for the Ad Astra Scholarship scheme. First years, or those simply unfamiliar with the Newman Building, may not even be aware that its basement housed a pool hall until this year.
The Trap came into existence via a rather unofficial route in 1976. For years, consecutive Students’ Unions had petitioned college authorities to open a games room on campus but to little avail. Billy McGrath, a sabbatical officer at the time, recognised that no progress was being made and decided that alternative actions had to be taken. Along with other members of the Union, he smuggled pool tables into the campus and left them in a disused room. When they came in the next day to find no one had moved them, the Trap was born.
The current Campaigns and Communications officer, Brendan Lacey, alluded to the Trap’s unofficial origins when confirming that it had closed. “They just closed the doors and told us – well, they didn’t even tell us it closed [… ] it’s not our space at the end of the day,” commented Lacey before adding that “it’s an awful shame the Trap is gone.”
It’s incredible to think of the generations of students who have spent their time in the Trap between, or during, lectures. “There was this one guy who had a special glove for table football,” says Aideen Hayden, Education Officer of 1981-82. “It was all to do with the flick of the wrist. And I remember our very first Rag Ball […] the Trap was open and we all sat around playing Space Invaders and table football wearing long dresses and dress suits.”
Many memories were formed at the Trap. Among the numerous rumours about the pool hall is the story that Ken Doherty played a student there in 2003 after he was awarded an honorary fellowship by the L&H. For most students though, it was simply a cherished place to go to blow off steam and play games with your friends.
“The Trap was more than a pool hall, it was a place to get away from college life. Essay deadlines and exam worries were left at the door, meaning there was always a chilled out vibe,” says Tiernan Kenny, final year Arts student. “No man or woman ever felt stressed or unhappy at anything other than the prospect of losing at pool, and even then there was always the option to pop in another coin and have a rematch.”
It’s not only the regular patrons of the Trap who will feel the loss, but also the UCD Pool and Snooker Club. According to the club’s president, Steven O’Reilly, the closure of the Trap means that the running of tournaments, which usually have numbers of more than seventy people taking part, will have to be held in the Student Bar. “It’s going to be mayhem now getting that many up in the bar,” he opined. “We haven’t got any facilities of our own.”
O’Reilly was also not given any notice of the Trap’s closure and feels that the situation has left the club in a “vulnerable” position. He has applied to get space in the old sports hall once the new sports facilities have been completed.
This idea of finding a replacement space is echoed by Lacey. He states that the SU is currently “looking into finding other spaces, particularly for the pool tables and that, kind of a hang out spot for students” and suggests that the new Student Centre will be their primary focus.
For Lacey, there is the added problem of loss in revenue that the SU gained from the pool tables and assorted machines. According to the 2009/2010 budget, it brought in €10,000. Last year it was expected to raise an estimated €12,500. Hayden adds that the Trap was the Union’s single biggest source of income in the late seventies and early eighties.
Though the story of the Trap’s origin seems like the stuff of Belfield’s many urban legends, the actual day to day running of the facility was much more ordinary. It was a room with pool tables and a couple of arcade games, but it managed to become a UCD institution largely because it was a place where students could escape from the daily stress of college life and unwind. The secret of the Trap was the sense of community engendered by it, something that will not be easy to replace.