The 1930s were a time of international economic depression. The Irish Free State experienced its first change of government in 1932 when Fianna Fáil took office, implementing a programme of agricultural and industrial self-sufficiency which set challenges for Irish engineering and science.
By 1930 the engineering school and most of the experimental science departments of UCD had moved to Merrion Street. In the 1926 transfer of all of the ‘fittings, furniture, scientific apparatus and other chattels’ of the Royal College of Science for Ireland to UCD, the government had retained the accommodation in the building occupied by the state chemist and his staff, as well as the seed testing station. When UCD’s department of chemistry moved to Merrion Street, stronger and continuing links were established with the state laboratory, especially as the professor of chemistry, Hugh Ryan, had accepted the position of state chemist two years earlier.
Despite financial constraints and economic difficulties, the range of courses offered to students in Merrion Street increased. Many graduates found employment in new state enterprises such as the Irish Sugar Company, Ceimici Teoranta, the Turf Development Board, the ESB, Radio Éireann and Aer Lingus.
Research in the sciences and technologies continued throughout the decade, often related to the development of Irish industry and Ireland’s natural resources. This included experimental work on James Drumm’s electric traction battery, research into liver fluke and tests on the possible exploitation and utilisation of one of Ireland’s important natural resources – peat. Many of the professors and other staff were involved in initiatives to develop a national scientific and technical infrastructure. They also participated in the activities of Irish and international scientific societies and professional bodies.
UCD’s student numbers increased from 1,684 to 2,398 over the decade. In 1933 the university took the first step in acquiring what would become its permanent campus, buying Belfield House on 44 acres 5 km south of Dublin city centre for £8,000.