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Below you will find a very brief history of UCD, starting with its foundation in 1854. You will also find links to sites which contain further information on UCD's history and historic houses on campus and in Dublin city centre.

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Early years

The years after Catholic Emancipation in Ireland (1829) while pocked with intermittent political upheaval, famine and emigration, saw the majority population gradually gain a foothold on the rungs of education and influence.

In 1854, the movement spearheaded by Cardinal Cullen and led by John Henry Cardinal Newman, succeeded in opening the doors of a new university, which would make higher level education accessible to a broad sweep of Irish people, creating a new class of educated Irish who would become the civil servants, the politicians, the lawyers, the architects, the historians and philosophers, the authors and playwrights, the doctors and engineers - the thinkers and doers who were to shape Irish society into the proud nation we are today.

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University buildings

The Catholic University opened its doors on the feast of St Malachy, 3 November 1854. On that day the names of seventeen students were entered on the register; the first name entered was that of Daniel O'Connell, grandson of the Liberator. The following Sunday, to a grand total of four officers and fifteen students, Newman gave an address entitled 'What are we here for?' Conscious of the small number with which they were beginning their great endeavour, he prophesied that when they were old they would look back with great pride and pleasure to St Malachy's Day, 1854. Newman was a great believer in the idea that his students should stay in independent, self-supporting halls or colleges in small groups under a dean and private tutors. Each house was to have its own chapel and common table. With this purpose in mind the university opened with three houses: 86 St Stephen's Green, with was known as St Patrick's or University House, under the care of Rev. Dr Michael Flannery; 16 Harcourt Street, known as St Lawrence's under the care of Rev. Dr James Quinn, who also had his school there; and Newman's own house, 6 Harcourt Street, known as St Mary's under Newman's personal supervision.

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The Medical School

The Catholic University Medical School was opened in 1855 in Cecilia Street. Now more than a stone's throw from the front gates of Trinity College, the Medical School symbolised the emergence of Catholic Ireland. Newman claimed that before he established the Medical School, out of 111 doctors in situations of authority in Dublin's five medical schools and hospitals, 12 were Catholic and 99 Protestant. The Medical School was the Catholic University's great success story; by the end of the century it had become the largest medical school in the country. After 1908 it became the medical Faculty of UCD.

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University Church

Newman's own beautiful University Church was opened in 1856 beside 86. Apart from religious services it was used also for public university functions and occasions such as the opening of academic sessions and the making of awards.

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Newman's legacy

In his approach to university education, Newman strove for a proper balance between utilitarian and liberal objectives. He not only sought to preserve what was best in the older university courses but was also eager to have his university respond to the needs and the developments and ever widening field of knowledge of his own time. He knew the value of an education in the classics; but any notions that his university was therefore hampered by, or restricted to, a classical education are very wide of the mark. Newman founded in the Catholic University a chair of poetry and one of the first chairs of English literature in Ireland or Britain. His university was also in the forefront of European academic advancement, with chairs of political and social science, political economy and geography. It was this sensitivity that led him to found the first chair of archaeology and Irish history in Ireland. Newman recognised the benefits that a university could bestow on the community in which it was situated by initiating a series of public lectures to be delivered by the professors of the Catholic University. Before any other university college in the country he launched a system of evening lectures for students who were employed during the day. In one of his best remembered passages, Newman held forth a challenge and a prophecy for Ireland as well as for his university:

I look towards a land both old and young; old in its Christianity, young in the promise of its future… I contemplate a people which has had a long night, and will have an inevitable day. I am turning my eyes towards a hundred years to come, and I dimly see the island I am gazing on become the road of passage and union between two hemispheres, and the centre of the world… The capital of that prosperous and hopeful land is situated in a beautiful bay and near a romantic region; and in it I see a flourishing University, which for a while had to struggle with fortune, but which, when its first founders and servants were dead and gone, had successes far exceeding their anxieties.

In all he has bequeathed, whether by way of the buildings in St Stephen's Green in which he laboured or the ideas incorporated in his legacy, or the vision he handed on, or the challenges he posed, Newman has forever left UCD in particular, and university education in general, in his debt.