Degrees of Separation


Just how does everyday life on campus as a UCD student go when there’s a near mirror image of yourself attending the very same university? Peter Molloy tracks down two pairs of Belfield’s own identical twins to find out

Ali and Leann are both 21 years old, and both are based in UCD’s Health Sciences Building. Alison is in her second year of four studing Midwifery, while Leann is three years into her General Nursing degree.

They also happen to be twin sisters, and absolutely identical ones at that. Or at least, that’s my opening gambit, until I’m laughingly reprimanded by Ali, the younger of the pair by a few hours.

“We’re not actually identical twins, we’re fraternal!”

A quick trip to Google after our interview tells me that a pair of fraternal twins is ‘dizygotic’ (or, for the uninitated, ‘non-identical’). Mind you, the distinction is easier classified than recognised if you’re actually standing in front of this pair. Although pointedly wearing different outfits, and sporting fractionally different hairstyles, these to an outsider would be the only features which set them apart.

As we talk in UCD’s Student Centre, a particular thing happens – not once, twice, but three times during our interview – as students and staff file into the building from Health Sciences to get lunch. Classmates spot the pair and approach, somewhat slowly and cautiously, until close enough to feel confident about making a guess at the identity of the particular twin they know.

While we watch Ali chatting to a friend from her course, cheerfully explaining why exactly it is that she’s being shadowed by a man clutching a digital voice recorder, Leann points out that sometimes the distinction isn’t so easily made by classmates and acquaintances.

“If you’re on your own, then quite often people who might be college friends with Ali, or would know her through class or whatever, just wouldn’t know the difference. So you do tend to get a fair amount of people coming up from and saying hello and asking how you are, which is awful because if you don’t know them, or if you’ve never seen them before, you end up feeling horribily rude.”

Turning back to us, Ali rapidly nods her agreement. “It can happen a huge amount on campus, or on nights out, because you’re almost guranteed to run into each other’s friends. Sometimes it can be easier just to say at the very beginning of a conversation: ‘I’m Ali!’, or whatever!”

Someone who knows that recurring awkward feeling only is too well is Colin, a 21-year-old BMus student. Colin is an official identical twin, with his brother Mark, currently on an Erasmus year in Germany, studying Commerce and German in UCD.

“We both came to UCD at the same time, and had been in the same primary and secondary schools the whole way through – but always in separate classes!”

Colin shares Ali and Leann’s experiences of social awkwardness, offering his own collection of rueful identity mix-ups. “If you were to see Mark walking around campus and you waved to him, he wouldn’t know who you were, so you’d probably end up thinking he was very, very ignorant.”

Relationships, says Colin, pose their own particular range of problems for the discerning twin. “I was walking through town one day with my girlfriend, and this woman I’d never seen before in my life, about 20 years old, started accusing me of cheating on her: ‘Did the last two weeks mean nothing?!’, and all that. I’d been away for a while, so I had no idea what had been going on with Mark’s love life. She didn’t buy the story that I was a twin at all. Eventually, I just had to ring Mark and get him to explain it to her slowly. It was slightly difficult, all right.”

Beneath the surface, just how similar is the average pair? Ali and Leann flash a grin at each, before Leann offers a diplomatic, practised summary.

“I’d say it’s probably safe to say that if you have a twin you have a best friend – but you can also have a worst enemy on occasion. We are very much our own people though, even if it doesn’t always seem that way!”

Colin is quick to agree. “He would be my best man if there was a wedding, that sort of thing – we do get on very well. We are different, though; he’s more business-minded and I’m much more musical. Most of the time, we don’t even fancy the same girls.”

When asked for a parting piece of practical wisdom about being a UCD twin, all three are instantly unanimous. It’s Colin who sums it up best, though, plaintitively pleading: “Just don’t think we’re rude b**tards all the time, please! Most of the time, it really probably isn’t the person you think it is.”