Trudging down that last set of stairs back in May 2001, final moving box in hand, a strange surge of emotion went through my body. I turned around and looked at the steps that sag in the middle and the worn, wooden handrails, and a thought came to my mind, "I may be leaving this building forever, but there is a part of me that will always stay."
It was then that I realized that a part of every young man who has lived in Ireland Hall is still there. The ghosts of the past never seem to leave this place. You can see it in the scuffed and sunken staircases, hear it in the echoes that call from floor to floor, and see it in the new faces of every school year. New Ireland Hall residents do not replace the old ones, they are merely additions to the thousands of spirits that still reside there.
Of course, when you’re living in I-Hall this nostalgic sensation is not noticeable. The rooms seem too small, the lighting too stale, the bathrooms not what they could be. The rumors about rodents abound, and the hardwood floors creak.
But, more than anywhere on campus, a true sense of community is established through residence in Ireland Hall. There are impromptu conversations that spring up between men on different sides and different floors in the wide hallways and stairwells. There are closely knit associations within the side wings, which filter out into the central halls. Valuable friendships and acquaintances are acquired, not only in your wing or on your floor, but also in the entire building itself.
The construction of Ireland Hall was completed in February 1912. The architect, E.L. Masqueray, who had also designed both the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, envisioned a massive, yet graceful structure. It provided more than 150 rooms for students and, in the south end, priests would occupy 20 apartments. One of the main attractions of I-Hall when it was built, was that it was "lighted with electricity" throughout, a line that remained in St. Thomas catalogs until as late as 1941.
Today, Ireland Hall is not only "lighted with electricity," but it is also fully connected to the campus computer network. It has a big screen television, billiards, and a pinball machine in the basement. Its rooms are filled with computers, refrigerators, microwaves, DVD players, and video game systems. The apartments that used to be the homes of priests are now suites that men compete for in a lottery system each spring. All of this new technology and change are a far cry from the simplicities of the rooms in the early part of this century, but they do not take away from the experience of Ireland Hall. They simply add to it.
A living symbol of this combination of Ireland Hall, past and present, is Monsignor James Lavin. He lived in Ireland Hall as a student from 1936 to 1940. When he came back to St. Thomas to serve in various academic and administrative roles, he again lived in Ireland Hall. From that year up until last January, 58 years in all, Monsignor Lavin was a stalwart presence and a center of the Ireland Hall community. His peanut butter and jelly table (which continues despite his absence) is a constant reminder of the smiles and warmth he gave to so many residents.
Monsignor Lavin is not the only Ireland Hall tradition, however. The annual, unofficial, Ireland-Brady snowball fight is another. According to most sources, Ireland Hall is undefeated in the 20-odd years the battle has raged. In the two years I participated, the number of Ireland men participating was astonishing, especially when compared to our counterparts from Brady Hall.
The teeter-totter marathon, held every spring to raise money for the Harriet Tubman Center, is yet another tradition that brings a sense of community to the residence hall. When young men teeter-totter all through the night to raise money for a family violence shelter, with various associates stopping by to offer food and drink, close friendships are bound to form.
And so, when I stepped out that door last May, I felt somewhat melancholy because I knew I would be missing out on something three months down the road. I would actually miss moving into accommodations that at the time seemed almost decrepit, but in hindsight somehow seem so comfortable.
But my heart was lightened when I thought about how I was a part of the history and the tradition of Ireland Hall and how I would never forget or give up that experience for anything in the world. I took one last look at the bricks on the outside walls that have faded considerably in the past 89 years, and I knew the vibrancy inside would still shine bright.
Some of the information in this article was taken from Journey Toward Fulfillment: A History of the College of St. Thomas by Dr. Joseph Connors.
Andy Pieper ’03 of New Prague, Minn., is a junior at St. Thomas. He has a double major in English and print journalism.