Royal University of Ireland

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Royal University of Ireland
Ollscoil Ríoga na hÉireann
Royal University of Ireland full coat of arms.jpg
Latin: Universitas Hiberniae Regium
Former names
Catholic University of Ireland
Queen's University of Ireland

The Royal University of Ireland was founded in accordance with the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 [1] as an examining and degree-awarding university based on the model of the University of London. A Royal Charter was issued on 27 April 1880 and examinations were open to candidates irrespective of attendance at college lectures. The first chancellor was the Irish chemist Robert Kane.


The university became the first university in Ireland that could grant degrees to women on a par with those granted to men. The first nine women students graduated in 1884. It granted its first degree to a woman on 22 October 1884 to Charlotte M. Taylor (Bachelor of Music). In 1888 Letitia Alice Walkington had the distinction of becoming the first woman in Great Britain or Ireland to receive a degree of Bachelor of Laws. Among the honorary degree recipients of the university was Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and later President of Ireland, who was awarded a DLitt in 1906.


The Royal University of Ireland was the successor to the Queen's University of Ireland, dissolved in 1882, and the graduates, professors, students and colleges of that predecessor were transferred to the new university. In addition to the Queen's Colleges, Magee College, University College, Dublin, Cecillia St. Medical School, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth and Blackrock College presented students for examinations as well, and no special status was accorded to the colleges of the former Queen's University. After the 1880 reforms Catholic Colleges such as Carlow College, Holy Cross College and Blackrock College ("The French College") came under the Catholic University, [2] and with a number of other seminaries presented students for examination by the RUI.

External students at colleges that were not approved could sit examinations of the Royal University (and many did so) although they were considered at a disadvantage to those from designated colleges whose professors were part of the university.

In fact, many schools, including convent schools (such as Dominican College, Eccles St, Dublin; [3] Alexandra College, Dublin; Loreto College, St Stephen's Green, Dublin; Methodist College, Belfast; High School for Girls, Derry; St Columb's College, Derry; Mungret College, Limerick; Rutland School, Mountjoy Square, Dublin; Dominican College, Sion Hill, Dublin; St. Angela's College, Cork; St Louis's, Monaghan; Presentation College, Cork; Christian Brothers College, Cork; Rochelle College, Cork) prepared students for the examinations (including degree examinations) of the Royal University. [4]

Like the Queen's University, the Royal University was entitled to grant any degree, similar to that of any other university in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, except in theology. The colleges themselves would award degrees in theology and divinity.

The professorships and Senate of the Royal University were shared equally between Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, colleges of the university maintained full independence except in the awarding of degrees, and the compilation and enforcement of academic regulations and standards.

The members of the Senate of the Royal University included Gerald Molloy, William Joseph Walsh, John Healy, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, George Arthur Hastings Forbes, 7th Earl of Granard, Anthony Nugent, 11th Earl of Westmeath, Daniel Mannix and George Johnston Allman.



Notable graduates

A high number of graduates of the university for the time were women (the first nine in 1884) because Trinity College Dublin did not accept female students until 1904.


The arms of the Royal University of Ireland on the southern side of the quadrangle at Queen's University Belfast Coat of arms, Queen's University, Belfast (2) - - 1599487.jpg
The arms of the Royal University of Ireland on the southern side of the quadrangle at Queen's University Belfast

On 31 October 1909 the Royal University was dissolved; the National University of Ireland and Queen's University Belfast took over its functions under the Irish Universities Act 1908, which provided for the transfer of graduates, staff and students to one or the other of these new universities. The final degree congregation of the Royal University of Ireland in 1909 involving 350 students was accompanied by demonstrations in favour of the Irish language being compulsory for the new National University.


Coat of arms of Royal University of Ireland
Granted 11 October 1881 by Sir John Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms.
Per saltire Ermine and Ermines an open book Proper clasped and surmounted by the royal crown Or between four escutcheons two in pale and two in fess the escutcheons in pale representing respectively the arms of the Provinces of Leinster (Vert an Irish harp Or stringed Argent) and Munster (Azure three antique crowns Or) the escutcheons in fess representing respectively the arms of the Provinces of Ulster (Or a cross Gules on an escutcheon Argent a dexter hand couped also Gules) and Connaught (per pale Argent and Azure on the dexter a dimidiated eagle displayed Sable and on the sinister conjoined therewith at the shoulder a sinister arm embowed Proper sleeved of the first holding a sword erect also Proper). [8]

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  1. University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 Hansard. Acts 1803–2005.
  2. Page 96, Ireland Since the Famine by F.S.L. Lyons, Fontana Press, (1971)
  3. A Journey Through Time History, Domician College,
  4. Chapter 3 Education -Ireland Society and Economy 1870 – 1914 Archived 10 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  5. "Ireland". The Times. No. 36947. London. 10 December 1902. p. 11.
  6. Thomas P Linehan. "The Development of Official Irish Statistics" (PDF). Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland. Retrieved 8 January 2015 via United Nations Statistics Division.
  7. "Irish America is under construction". 30 July 2014.
  8. "Grants and Confirmations of Arms, Vol. H". National Library of Ireland. 1880. p. 76. Retrieved 13 August 2022.