Identity Statement for School of Irish Studies

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P193
  • Title: Records of the School of Irish Studies (founded 1969)
  • Dates: 1971–2003
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 8 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use

Institutional History

The School of Irish Studies was founded in 1969 as a summer school and in 1970 as a year-round school offering courses in Irish literature, history, politics and Irish culture. The School was initially associated with the travel bureau of USIT (Union of Students in Ireland) for administrative purposes. However, the commercial element to this arrangement was inconsistent with the academic aims of the School and the association ended in 1974 when the School was set up as a non-profit making company limited by guarantee. Throughout its existence the School was registered as a charity, received no government funding and relied totally on student fees. Any surplus was put back into the School to develop the library and other facilities. From 1972 to 1974 it was based in Harcourt Street. In 1976 the School became a tenant of the RDS and rented a portion of the premises Thomas Prior House in Ballsbridge.

The student body was drawn primarily from North America and Canada. From the outset it sought to fill a gap for foreign students in the Irish third level education sector, offering a framework where credits could be accumulated and certified for use in the student’s home universities. The courses offered by the School covered a comprehensive range of liberal arts subjects based on Irish culture including literature, history, folklore, art and politics. The teaching faculty was drawn primarily from University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, with occasional guest lecturers.

The Governing Body was responsible for directing and controlling the work of the School with the Executive Committee responsible for the day-to-day activities of the School. From a structural point of view the Dean (Michael Scott, then Seán White) reported to the Executive Committee which was in turn answerable to the Governing Body. The Dean who acted as academic director and chief executive officer was assisted in his work by the Registrar and an Executive Assistant. An Academic Advisory Council advised on courses, standards, admissions and faculty appointments.

From 1973 to 1988 the School offered a Spring and Autumn Semester programme. Student numbers were healthy and growing. So much so that when an opportunity arose to purchase the premises at Thomas Prior House from the RDS it was considered a viable and timely opportunity. In 1985 the School paid £325,000 for the premises and set about carrying out a major conservation and refurbishment programme on the building. It now had very attractive premises where it could showcase the courses on offer to an American audience drawn primarily from a select list of colleges.

For a time the School operated a successful model and was clearly offering an opportunity that could not be found in the more established universities. However, despite their efforts, competition from the university sector in Ireland and Britain grew and began to attract foreign students to those institutions which in turn led to a decline in student numbers attending the School of Irish Studies. The Board began to seek an alternative opportunity; in particular it saw its future in associating with either UCD or TCD and an integration that would see it operating on a university campus but as a separate entity. Despite negotiations with UCD and TCD between 1987 and 1989 a successful integration could not be achieved.

Between 1984 and 1986 attention turned towards America and attempts were made to fundraise through a Board of Regents and an incorporated body known as the Irish Studies Foundation Inc. Despite much effort on behalf of the School by the Dean, Seán White, and the Chairman, Patrick Kilroy, as well as the appointment of a US consultancy firm, this did not yield anything like the money required and the School had to face a painful decision to suspend the semester programme and ultimately sell Thomas Prior House. In April 1988 the Board of Governors approved the sale of the premises for £650,000. Although this was a serious blow for the School, it was by any standards a very profitable outcome. The sale price enabled the School to pay back loans incurred by the refurbishment programme, settle outstanding debts and offer suitable redundancy to salaried staff as well as leaving a surplus to start an endowment fund.

The profit gained from the sale allowed the School of Irish Studies to rethink its aims and objectives and to come up with a model to promote itself in line with the original Articles of Association. No longer able to compete with UCD or TCD in offering an educational programme to foreign students it turned its attention to providing financial assistance to individuals engaged in scholarly research and projects relating to the history and culture of Ireland, establishing the Irish Studies Foundation. From 1990 to 2003 it encouraged applications from scholars and academics, as well as small cultural bodies. Awards were given annually.

Inevitably, without additional revenue the fund began to dwindle. Some attempt was made to apply through the Arts Council of Ireland and the Ireland Fund to maintain the fund but the efforts were not successful. In January 2003 the Board of Governors contacted the Foundation’s solicitors requesting them to initiate the winding up of the company. The official strike-off notice was issued by the Companies Registration Office in October 2003.

Archival History

This collection was deposited in UCD Archives in 2003 by Professor Kevin B. Nowlan with additional deposits by Mrs Rosemarie Mulcahy in 2003 and Mr Joe McCullough in 2004.

Scope and Content

File concerning the foundation and formation of the School including the Articles of Association 1971–3

Series of files listing the programme of study of the School of Irish Studies, details of the courses offered in creative writing, Irish literature, poetry, drama, Irish language, archaeology, history and politics. Biographical profiles on individual lecturers, comprehensive reading lists, class schedules including extra-curricular activities, outings and excursions. Lists of American colleges represented and the names of students enrolled on the programme, 1970–88.

Minutes, correspondence, memoranda, reports of the Board of Governors and Executive Committee, 1974–2003.

Minutes, correspondence, notes and memoranda of the Finance Committee, 1984–91.

Series of audited financial accounts of the School, 1974–94.

Extensive file of correspondence, notes, memoranda, reports and copies of legal documents concerning the purchase of Thomas Prior House from the RDS, 1981–86.

File of correspondence, notes, minutes of meetings, reports and copies of legal documents relating to the sale of Thomas Prior House by the School of Irish Studies, 1988.

Files relating to the negotiations between the School of Irish Studies and UCD and TCD in an effort to create a viable association between the School and the two universities, 1987–9.

Reports and correspondence relating to the establishment and eventual winding up of the Irish Studies Foundation Inc. in America, 1984–95.

Correspondence, publicity material and press releases concerning the financial awards made by the School of Irish Studies Foundation to individuals and cultural institutions to support their work in the promotion of Irish culture including Irish history, literature, the arts, the preparation of books, articles and the holding of events such as conferences, seminars, lectures and exhibitions, 1991–2001.

Official strike-off notice issued by the Companies Registration Office officially dissolving the company, the School of Irish Studies Ltd, 2003.

  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in digital format.
  • Language: English
  • Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue
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