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National University of Ireland

Queen's University of Ireland
In 1845 the Queen's College Act established three new colleges “for the Advancement of Learning in Ireland”: Queen's College Cork, Queen's College Galway and Queen's College Belfast. These Colleges were opened for teaching in 1849, and in 1850 were linked together under the umbrella of the Queen's University of Ireland, established by Royal Charter.

Catholic University of Ireland
A Papal rescript issued in 1847 condemned the Queen's Colleges as "detrimental to religion", and proposed to the Irish bishops the foundation of a Catholic University, modelled on Louvain. A decree of the Synod of Thurles in 1850 accepted the proposal. On 12 November 1851, John Henry Newman was appointed first Rector of the Catholic University, an institution founded and funded independently of the State. The Catholic University was formally opened in November 1854.

The Royal University
The University Education (Ireland) Act, 1879 provided for the formation of a new University in Ireland, afterwards styled the Royal University of Ireland, whose examinations were open to all candidates, whether they had attended College lectures or not. The Charter of the Royal University was granted on 27 April 1880 and the Queen's University was dissolved on the 3 February 1882.

The foundation of the Royal University provided an opportunity to improve the position of the Catholic University students, to whom recognised University degrees had not hitherto been available. St Patrick's House (now Newman House, St Stephen's Green) changed its title to University College, Dublin, and took over, under the control of the Jesuit Fathers, all the work of the Catholic University, except the teaching of medicine, which continued in Cecilia Street, under the title of the Catholic University Medical School.

The Queen's Colleges in Cork, Galway and Belfast continued to exist as constituted by the Act of 1845, but had no special status in relation to the Royal University, nor any effective share in framing its policy or drawing up its courses.

1908 -1997

The Irish Universities Act, 1908 established two new Universities - the National University of Ireland and the Queen's University of Belfast and dissolved the Royal University on 31 October 1909. Under this Act, the National University became a federal University with its seat in Dublin and with three Constituent Colleges established by Charter: University College, Dublin; University College, Cork; and University College, Galway. The Queen's Colleges in Cork and Galway were given an entirely new status and title. The Jesuit University College, Dublin, was given a new constitution and was merged with the Catholic University Medical School. The Act empowered the University Senate to recognise courses of study in other institutions for the purpose of degrees, and the following institutions were granted the status of Recognised College.

Recognised Colleges of the National University:

  • 1910 to 1997: St Patrick's College, Maynooth
  • 1975 to 1995: St Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra, Dublin
  • 1975 to 1988: Our Lady of Mercy College, (Carysfort) Dublin
  • 1975 to 1994: Mary Immaculate College, Limerick
  • 1976 to 1977: The National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick
  • 1976 to 1977: Thomond College of Education, Limerick
  • 1977: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
  • 1978 to 2005: St Angela's College of Education, Sligo
  • 1996: National College of Art and Design, Dublin
  • 2002: Shannon College of Hotel Management
  • 2002: Institute of Public Administration
  • 2005: Milltown Institute
  • 2013: Uversity

The Universities Act, 1997, which came into effect on 16 June, 1997, redefined the nature and role of the National University of Ireland. It reconstituted the Senate, which is the Governing Body of the University, with a membership of thirty-eight, as follows:


  • The Chancellor
  • The Chief Officers of the Constituent Universities
  • The Registrar of the University
  • Four members nominated by the Government (two men and two women)
  • Four persons elected by each of the Constituent Universities
  • Eight members elected by Convocation (four men and four women)
  • Four co-opted members


Under the Act, the Senate of the National University of Ireland has functions and responsibilities in relation to the following: determining basic matriculation requirements; reviewing the content and teaching of courses; appointing external examiners;


awarding degrees and other qualifications.


The 1997 Act also reconstituted the three Constituent Colleges of the National University of Ireland, and the Recognised College, St Patrick's College, Maynooth as Constituent Universities.

The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012, which came into effect in November 2012, defined the University as a “designated awarding body”. As such, the Act requires the University to establish quality assurance arrangements in respect of “linked providers” that deliver educational programmes leading to awards of the University. The Act also provides for periodic review of the University’s quality assurance procedures by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, the Authority established under the Act to oversee quality assurance of further and higher education and training in Ireland.

49 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 
This house dates from the 1790’s. It was leased by Robert Way Harty of Prospect Hall in 1818, who became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1831. Number 49, on the east side of one of Dublin’s best-known Georgian squares, has been home to the Central Office of the National University of Ireland since 1912. The premises feature in Dublin City Council’s Record of Protected Structures which lists protected structures of architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, social, scientific or technical importance.

The original Senate Rooms on the first floor of Number 49 contain a cycle of early nineteenth-century mural paintings. The cycle consists of a series of Italianate landscape paintings, which completely cover the walls from the dado upwards. A painted frame of illusionistic woodwork in red surrounds each mural separately. ‘[Robert Way Harty] commissioned a series of mural paintings for No. 49 Merrion Square, which represent Italian scenes taken from engravings of paintings by Claude Lorraine, Salvatore Rosa, Rubens and others. These murals combine to create a romantic interior of nobility and style for the t shaped room….* In the absence of documentary evidence, the attribution of the paintings cannot be established. However, they are of very high quality and rank with any cycle in these islands. As illusionistically framed landscapes they are unique in Georgian Dublin, and are also protected by a preservation order.

On 6th November 2001, Dr Garret FitzGerald, then Chancellor of the University, formally opened a new extension to Number 49 Merrion Square. In his remarks, Dr FitzGerald noted that ‘’… architecturally, the new building [the Phelan Building] is very much in sympathy with its surroundings. The Georgian idiom has been interpreted with great sensitivity by our architect, the colour of the brick - frequently a jarring note in recreated Georgian - is rich and modulated, the detail of door and window is authentic and overall the effect is harmonious and complementary.’ The construction of the new extension was undertaken in consultation with Dublin Corporation and its completion marks the first major physical change in the NUI Central Office since the University took up residence in 1912. The purpose-built facility, designed to accommodate small conference arrangements, incorporates a new room for Senate Meetings, two other meeting rooms, and ancillary facilities.

The new Senate Room - to be known as ‘The Phelan Room’, was partly funded by a bequest from the estate of Edward J. Phelan, former Director of the International Labour Organisation, and a distinguished Honorary Graduate of the University, and his wife Fernande. Dr FitzGerald expressed the hope that, aside from meetings of Senate ‘the new extension will provide a focus for a broad spectrum of activities involving interaction and collaboration of colleagues from the Constituent Universities and Recognised Colleges of NUI. Given its wonderful location, here in the heart of Georgian Dublin, we believe that this will prove to be an attractive and useful venue for various events and functions’.
*‘Dublin - A Grand Tour’: J. O’Brien and D. Guinness; G Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd. London, 1994.

As a unique and historical focal point in Irish higher education, NUI serves the interests of the member institutions, by providing services to them and to their graduates. Related to this, NUI promotes the national and international standing of the National University of Ireland as a whole, by undertaking activities related to scholarship, the advancement of higher education and the cultural and intellectual life of Ireland.

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