An Irishman's Diary
A recent report prepared for the Higher Education Authority that proposes an amalgamation of UCD and TCD comes 700 years after the first initiative to establish a university in Dublin.
In 1312, Archbishop John de Lecke, obtained a brief from Pope Clement V authorising the founding of a studium generale, a university of scholars. Following on from that, his successor, Alexander de Bicknor, received a new brief from Pope John XXII in 1320 and an institution was established in St Patrick’s Cathedral. It received financial help from Edward III and land from the king’s governor in Ireland, Lionel, Duke of Clarence.
Information about its later history is scanty. It was run by the Franciscans and later by the Dominicans, but it disappeared in the 16th century.
Meanwhile, some Irishmen studied in Oxford and Cambridge and Oxford had an Irishman’s Meadow.
In 1547, Archbishop George Brown, proposed that the revenues of the cathedral should be used to endow “a fair and large college to be called Christ’s College” but nothing happened.
The lord deputy, Sir John Perrot, revisited the proposal in 1584. In his view, St Patrick’s was superfluous “except to maintain a few bad singers and to satisfy the covetous humours of some that eat up the revenue of that church”.
But the new archbishop, Adam Loftus, who fathered 20 children, needed the revenue of the cathedral and stifled the proposal.
Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth stated a university was needed “to benefit men who would otherwise travel to foreign universities where they would be infected with popery and other ill qualities and so become evil subjects”. The Corporation offered the land of the monastery of All Hallows (near Hoggen (now College) Green and the archdeacon of Dublin, Henry Ussher, went to London to obtain the royal assent.
He returned with a charter and the foundation stone of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth was laid by the lord mayor, Thomas Smith, on March 15th, 1591.
Most of the finance for this “mater universitatis” came initially from crown rents in Munster and later from estates in Ulster.
In 1627, the Jesuits opened a college in Back Lane but the privy council objected to their “intolerable increase and progress” and it was closed down.
In 1662, the Act for the Settling of Ireland proposed the establishment of a second (King’s) college in Dublin University but without result.
In 1795, the chief justice of the King’s Bench, Lord Kilwarden, proposed a college that would be part of the university and would have Catholic fellows but again there was no follow-up.
During the 19th century, the issue of university education for Catholics became increasingly prominent even though the potential numbers remained small.
The Queen’s Colleges that opened in 1849 were intended to meet Catholic and Presbyterian demands but they were quickly dubbed “godless colleges” and in 1854, the Catholic hierarchy opened a university with John Henry Newman as rector. It had no charter but its medical faculty was recognised throughout the UK.
From 1880, it received funding for its staff from the Royal University, a new examination and degree awarding body, and, apart from the medical faculty which remained independent until 1908, it was taken over by the Jesuits in 1883. It then became University College Dublin.
Meanwhile, in 1873, the prime minister, William Gladstone, had failed to obtain parliamentary approval for a proposal for a single non-denominational university in Ireland. Two years later, the Home Rule leader, Isaac Butt, proposed a new college with frontage on Westland Row which would share facilities with Trinity and allow the students to mingle.
In 1906, the provost of Trinity, Anthony Traill, told a Royal Commission that the university had offered the students of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, access to its arts courses on the same basis as Church of Ireland divinity students.
UCD became a constituent college of the National University of Ireland in 1908 and a constituent university of the NUI in 1997.
In April 1967, the minister for education, Donogh O’Malley, proposed the amalgamation of the two institutions. Their initial responses were positive, but, as arguments about the details developed, support faded and the Cosgrave government abandoned the idea in 1974.
In the light of history, perhaps few should be surprised at the less than positive noises the latest amalgamation proposal has evoked.