The decade began on an optimistic note. The Marshall Plan promised funding and technical support for a programme of investment, and Ireland, now a republic, was investing heavily in housing, arterial drainage, agriculture and rural electrification, all offering promising careers for engineers and scientists. Yet by the mid-1950s emigration had soared, and many graduates were forced to seek careers overseas.
Student numbers in UCD continued to rise, despite the poor employment prospects in Ireland. The Merrion Street building, which had begun life with 141 students, now had to provide classes for more than seven times that number. Pressure on accommodation was slightly relieved when office space occupied by the comptroller and auditor general’s department was handed back to the university in 1950. Additional space was provided by adding another floor to the first year chemistry laboratory and rearranging some of the offices, laboratories and workshops. (The workshops of Merrion Street were a distinctive feature of the building, with graduates of many years standing recalling the technicians who facilitated teaching and research activities there.) Lectures were duplicated and laboratory classes had to be repeated up to ten times to cater for the rising numbers. Opportunities to meet and talk outside the classroom were minimal, and one of the few meeting places for students was on the steps of the front hall.
Despite the lack of space, research continued to expand and the range of subjects increased. A degree in chemical engineering was established, with John P. O’ Donnell appointed professor of chemical engineering in 1957. The need for increasing specialisation led to the separation of mechanical and electrical engineering, with the first degrees under the new arrangement awarded in 1959.
Many UCD Merrion Street graduates of the 1950s would play significant roles in the economic and industrial expansion of subsequent decades. This included figures such as the McCabe brothers, Liam Connellan, later director general of the Confederation of Irish Industry, chairman of the National Roads Authority and president of the Royal Dublin Society, Tom Hardiman, later director general of RTE and chairman of the Irish Goods Council and the National Board for Science and Technology, and Brian Sweeney, later managing director and chairman of Siemens in Ireland and first chairman of Science Foundation Ireland.