Although little is known about the vast network of underground tunnels that run underneath campus, myths and legends about their supposed purpose are rife among students. Gavin Tracey investigates the Newman part of this mystery and separates fact from fiction.
With the total number of students who attend UCD over 30,000, it is no surprise that it has its own collection of myths, legends, rumours and conspiracy theories, most of them based on UCD’s strange architectural quirks and oddities. While most of them turn out to be untrue, they tell us something about what the collective mind of UCD wants to be true about the college. We know that the lake was not installed to prevent riots, but rather for drainage, but we want it to be true so we can look back nostalgically at the student riots of the late 60s, almost proud of the fact that an actual lake was built to stop us from gathering. The wide steps that force one to lurch down or lunge up are said also to be part of this riot proof design.
Perhaps the most mysterious of all these architectural quirks is the vast and sprawling network of subterranean tunnels that link most of the buildings together. They stretch the entire length of campus, accessible from most of the larger buildings on campus, and they exit in seemingly random locations, from the front of the student centre to the back of the water tower. The UCD tunnel system is the subject of much speculation, but the most easily accessible tunnels are those beneath the arts block.
“Perhaps the most mysterious of all these architectural quirks is the vast and sprawling network of subterranean tunnels that link most of the buildings together.”
When students were asked just what they thought the tunnels were for, they came back with a plethora of answers, some grounded in reality, some a tad more fantastical. The prevailing belief is that they were built so that lecturers could escape if students started rioting, but there is no clear evidence to back up this claim. One student commented that the tunnels were a good “masturbation station,” but it is clear that this was not the intended use of the tunnels. One student seemed adamant it was to provide an escape in case of an IRA attack. When asked why the IRA would bomb a university in the republic, the student in question responded “Sure you never know what those lads would be up to.” Another had heard rumours of a monster, some had heard rumours of a secretive UCD society that meets in the labyrinthine maze for unknown, yet still nefarious, reasons. In short, no one really seemed to know why they were there. And so, armed only with a small keychain torch, your trusted reporter took it upon himself to get to the bottom of it.
I decided to try out the Newman tunnels. On either side of the two largest lecture halls are two cylindrical brick walls, waist high, descending into the depths of the building. No ‘keep out’ signs, no warnings, just a spiral staircase that leads you into a dark pit. As you continue down the stairs, the noise of students milling around, which you had not really been aware of before, slowly fades, and you become painfully conscious of the new-found silence around you. As you reach the bottom nearly all sound has died away, and before you stretch, it is a low-ceilinged tunnel, dimly lit.
As I go further in, my claustrophobic tendencies clash with my curiosity, resulting in me advancing in increasingly panicked fascination. It is only now I realise that perhaps I was not the best person to send on this assignment. I begin to hear murmurs, a soft voice. Could I have discovered the secret society? How will they react to an intruder? As it turns out this is just a lecture taking place in Theatre N above me, the door that resides just beside the stage at the top of the theatre is to my left. I fight my urge to burst into the hall Kramer style and continue further. Unfortunately, I reached an impasse, the tunnels are only accessible to the elite few it seems, not open for the student population to wander about freely. I make my way back up, scaring a student at the top of the stairwell in the process.
When we dug around into all the myths and legends surrounding them, we could find nothing. As is usually the case, the truth seems to be the simplest answer. The tunnels are there purely for maintenance reasons. There are no overhead cables running along campus, they are all routed underground through the tunnels. The lack of any information about them turns out not to be a vast conspiracy theory, but purely because there is not much to know about them. Yet the myths will continue, tied in to some strange narrative of student rebellion and covert activity, no matter how many times we are told that sometimes a maintenance tunnel is just a maintenance tunnel.