Catholic University of Ireland

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Catholic University of Ireland
Ollscoil Chaitliceach na hÉireann
Oval line drawing, latin text 'Sedes Sapientiae Ora Pro Nobis' surrounds, crowned female figure at centre displaying open book
Latin: Catholica Universitas Hiberniae
MottoSedes Sapientiæ Ora Pro Nobis
Motto in English
[Our Lady] Seat of Wisdom, Pray for Us
AffiliationSociety of Jesus (1883–1909)
PresidentFr William Delany SJ (1883–1888)
RectorJohn Henry Newman (1854–1861)
Bartholomew Woodlock (1861–1879)
Henry Neville (1879–1883)
Gerald Molloy (1883–1906)
Patrick O'Donnell (1906–1911)
Despite the international reputation of the founding Rector, John Henry Newman, the university failed to attract sufficient funding and students before 1880.

The Catholic University of Ireland (CUI; Irish: Ollscoil Chaitliceach na hÉireann) was a private Catholic university in Dublin, Ireland. It was founded in 1851 following the Synod of Thurles in 1850, and in response to the Queen's University of Ireland and its associated colleges which were nondenominational; Cardinal Cullen had previously forbidden Catholics from attending these "godless colleges".[1]


After the Catholic Emancipation period of Irish history, the Archbishop of Armagh attempted to provide for the first time in Ireland higher-level education both accessible to followers of the Catholic Church and taught by such people. The Catholic Hierarchy demanded a Catholic alternative to the University of Dublin / Trinity College, whose Anglican origins the Hierarchy refused to overlook. The Hierarchy also wanted to counteract the "Godless Colleges" of the Queen's University of Ireland – established in the cities of Galway, Belfast and Cork. The University of Dublin had since the 1780s admitted Catholics to study; a religious test, however, hindered the efforts of Catholics in their desire to obtain membership of the University's governing bodies. Thus, in 1850 at the Synod of Thurles, it was decided to open in Dublin – especially for Catholics – a new institution.[2] The Synod findings were supported by Pope Pius IX and the Holy See gave approval in 1852, and then issued a papal encyclical on 20 March 1854 supporting the establishment of the University.[3]

On 18 May 1854 the Catholic University of Ireland was formally established, with five faculties - of law, letters, medicine, philosophy and theology - with John Henry Newman (later Cardinal) as the Rector.[2] Lectures commenced on 3 November 1854, with the registration of seventeen students, the first being Daniel O'Connell, grandson of the notable Catholic politician Daniel O'Connell.[4]

In 1856 the University Church opened.[5]

As a private body, the Catholic University was never given a royal charter, and so was unable to award recognised degrees, and suffered from chronic financial difficulties. Newman left the university in 1857, after which the school went into a serious decline. Bartholomew Woodlock was appointed Rector in 1860 and served until he became Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise in 1879.

In 1861, Dr Woodlock tried to secure land for a building near Holy Cross College Clonliffe, the establishment to be known as St. Patrick's University. Plans were drawn up by an architect, J.J. McCarthy, and a foundation stone laid.[6] Cardinal Cullen was against the idea of educating lay and clerical students on the same premises. However this plan was shelved because of the expansion of the railway line,[7] and a church and monastery was built on the site. Under the name St. Patrick's University night classes were advertised by the University, under Dr. Woodlock's name

Some feeder secondary schools were established for the CUI. The nearby Catholic University School was joined by St. Flannan's College in Co. Clare and Catholic University High School in Waterford.

In 1863 the CUI awarded its first Doctorate of Divinity to James Vincent Cleary (Professor in St. John's College, Waterford, and future Bishop of Kingston, Canada), using its papal charter to award theological degrees.[8]

In 1880, the Royal University of Ireland was established. The Royal University’s charter entitled all Irish students to sit the Universities examinations and receive its degrees. The University was renamed as University College - Dublin in 1882.[9]


The Catholic University was neither a recognised university so far as the civil authorities were concerned, nor an institution offering recognised degrees. Newman had little success in establishing the new university, though over £250,000 had been raised from the laity to fund it. Though they held the foundation money as trustees, the hierarchy in 1859 sent most of it to support an Irish Brigade led by Myles O'Reilly to help defend Rome in the Second Italian War of Independence.

Newman left the university in 1857. According to Lytton Strachey (in his book, Eminent Victorians, p. 72)[10]

"Eventually he realised something else: he saw that the whole project of a Catholic University had been evolved as a political and ecclesiastical weapon against the Queen's Colleges of Peel, and that was all. As an instrument of education, it was simply laughed at ; and he himself had been called in because his name would be a valuable asset in a party game. When he understood that, he resigned his rectorship and returned to the Oratory."

Subsequently the school went into a serious decline; in 1879 only three students had registered. The situation changed in 1880 when the recognised Royal University of Ireland came into being and students of the Catholic University were entitled to sit the Royal University examinations and receive its degrees.[11]

After the 1880 reforms the Catholic University consisted of a number of constituent colleges, including St Patrick's College, Maynooth and Cecilia St. Medical School (see below), with much of the original university then merging into another of its colleges, University College, Dublin. Following the 1879 Act all Catholic Colleges including Carlow College, Holy Cross College and Blackrock College (The French College) came under the Catholic University.[12] Subsequently other seminaries such as St. Kieran's College, Kilkenny, the Carmelite College, Terenure became affiliated to the Catholic University and hence the new Royal University.

University College was passed to the control of the Jesuits in 1883, when it housed the faculties of the Catholic University except medicine.

National University of Ireland, 1909[edit]

In 1909 the Catholic University essentially came to an end with the creation of the National University of Ireland, with University College Dublin as a constituent, however the Catholic University of Ireland remained a legal entity until 1911.[13] In 1915 the NUI awarded honorary doctorates to a number of former students of the CUI.[14]

Catholic University Medical School[edit]

The Catholic University Medical School had commenced lectures for medical students in 1855, in Cecilia Street, Dublin. The recognition of its graduates by chartered institutions (the RCSI) ensured its success, unlike the associated Catholic University.[15] This ensured that the medical school became the most successful constituent college of the Catholic University and by 1900 the medical school had become the largest medical school in Ireland.

The 1908 reforms reconstituted the Catholic University Medical School as the Faculty of Medicine of University College Dublin, with Dr. D. J. Coffey, M.B.(RUI), Professor of Physiology, Catholic University Medical School, becoming the first president of UCD.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Johnston, Roy 1993. Causeway, the Belfast 'Cultural Traditions' quarterly, Vol 1 no 1, September 1993 "The Practical Arts in Irish Culture" Archived 4 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 1 September 2006.
  2. ^ a b Hachey, Thomas E.; McCaffrey, Lawrence J. (28 January 2015). The Irish Experience Since 1800: A Concise History: A Concise History. Routledge. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-317-45611-7. Archived from the original on 14 May 2021. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  3. ^ Universities - vii-Ireland Archived 29 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "A day to remember Newman's contribution to Ireland". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 8 June 2021. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  5. ^ McGarry, Patsy. "Archbishop attacks 'nastiness' of social media comments by Catholic pundits". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  6. ^ A proposal for a Roman Catholic University of Ireland in Clonliffe Archived 25 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "UCD Timeline". Archived from the original on 7 October 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  8. ^ James Vincent Cleary Archived 23 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  9. ^ Art Cosgrove (6 November 2008). A New History of Ireland, Volume II : Medieval Ireland 1169-1534: Medieval Ireland 1169-1534. OUP Oxford. p. 838. ISBN 978-0-19-156165-8. Archived from the original on 1 August 2020. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  10. ^ Lytton Strachey (1918) Eminent Victorians, The Modern Library, New York
  11. ^ University Education (Ireland) Act 1879
  12. ^ Page 96, Ireland Since the Famine by F.S.L. Lyons, Fontana Press, (1971)
  13. ^ Post Famine Ireland- Social Structure Ireland as it Really Was, by Desmond Keenan, 2006.
  14. ^ Catholic University of Ireland NUI Honorary Degrees 1915 Archived 15 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "National University of Ireland – History of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland". Archived from the original on 13 November 2011. Retrieved 6 December 2011.


  • Barr, Colin (2001). "The Failure of Newman's Catholic University of Ireland". Archivium Hibernicum. Catholic Historical Society of Ireland. 55: 126–139. doi:10.2307/25484188. JSTOR 25484188.
  • Moody, T. W. (1958). "The Irish University Question of the Nineteenth Century". History. Wiley. 43 (148): 90–109. JSTOR 24403598.
  • O'Donnell, Patrick (1912). "Catholic University of Ireland". Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  • O'Rahilly, Alfred (Winter 1961). "The Irish University Question: V. The Catholic University of Ireland". Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review. Irish Province of the Society of Jesus. 50 (200): 353–370. JSTOR 30103640.

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