The commencement of studies at the Royal College of Science for Ireland in its new home in Merrion Street in October 1911 reflected the ambition of its fellows to ‘fulfil a wider usefulness for the country’. The commencement was attended by officials from the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction along with the professors, lecturers and the cohort of 141 students. Among the faculty were a number of Fellows of the Royal Society, the UK’s most distinguished scientific society, including Walter Hartley, dean of faculty, William McFadden Orr, professor of mathematics, and Grenville Cole, professor of geology and mineralogy. In addition to formal courses in chemistry, electro-technology, physics, mathematics, agriculture, geology and mineralogy, botany, zoology and engineering, the RCScI offered summer courses in physics, geography ‘on modern lines’, chemistry and rural science.
Within three years, world events overtook the plans of the RCScI for its role in Ireland’s scientific, educational and national development. Although teaching and research continued, many students and staff enlisted when war was declared in 1914. The main business of the college council for late 1914 was to discuss and support applications of students for temporary commissions. In subsequent years, annual reports of the RCScI noted with regret the names of seventeen students and staff killed in action and also noted significant military awards, such as the Victoria Cross awarded to former student F.M.W. Harvey.
1918 and the end of the first world war saw the return of former students anxious to complete their studies as well as concern about the flu epidemic, which resulted in the suspension of lectures. The college council had anticipated a return to normal education and scientific research after 1918, but the political climate in Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising was reflected in changes within the college as it entered the next decade.