A History of the Department

A History of the Department of Anatomy & Neuroscience

A History of  the Department of Anatomy & Neuroscience

Early Beginnings

Prior to the opening of the department of Anatomy and Physiology in Queens College Cork, Anatomy had been taught in a number of Anatomical Schools in the city. The first School of Anatomy in Cork was opened in 1811 by John Woodroffe in Margaret Street, later moving to Warren's (now Parnell) Place. The last School of Anatomy in Cork closed in 1845.

When Queen’s University College Cork was opened in 1849 it lacked a dedicated Medical Building. In the early years of the University practical anatomy was carried out  in a basement of the Science division, sharing a classroom with botany and geology and dissections were conducted by medical students in a senior class of engineers. Other Classes were taught in the school of medicine in the South Mall.3

The first Professor of Anatomy and Physiology was Professor Alcock.

In 1850 funding for a stand alone Medical Building was provided by Lord Clarendon who had been appointed Lord Lieutenant in 1849.  Built in a Victorian Gothic Revival style the Medical Building was known as the Clarendon Buildingin its early years.  

The Department of Anatomy, originally ‘The Department of Anatomy and Physiology’, has since its opening (until very recently), occupied the first floor of this Medical Building. The Clarendon Building quickly suffered from overcrowding and lack of space. In 1865 the College council complained that ‘demonstration and dissecting facilities were grossly inadequate’. Improvements had to wait until the appointment of William Kirby Sullivan, the second President of Queen’s College 1873-90.3

Under the direction of President William Kirby Sullivan the Cork the Clarendon building was almost doubled in size. The Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at this time was Professor J.J. Charles. There were also plans, which were never realised, to join the Medical Building to the north-west corner of the Quadrangle, and in doing so create a spacious library.1


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Drawing adapted from Dr Ronan O Rahally, showing left to right original Clarendon Building and extended Medical building as extended by Professor O Sullivan. Arrow indicates the junction of the extension with the old building. 


Clarendon Building after extension

Medical Building after O Sullivan's extension. Note protruding blockwork ready for a proposed  linking of the Medical Building to the Quadrangle. This work was never carried out and blockwork later removed.


The Anatomy Dissecting room, on the first floor, initially had three pairs of windows on the east side of the Clarendon Building, the extension involved removing a chimney and inserting five more sets of windows, creating a spacious and bright dissecting room.  The British Medical Journal of 1879 refers to “the splendid anatomical room, which is 114 feet long, with capital light.1

”The Museum and medical library were located to the north of the building; the first floor of the museum which was a gallery was the location of the anatomical museum. The height of the southern end of the building was raised with the extension of the building.1


The internal arrangement of the building was altered over the years in response to pressure for space and to suit the changing needs of the departments. In 1907 a new dissecting was provided for the exclusive use of women medical students. The gallery anatomical museum was converted into a temporary drawing office.  The north end of the dissecting room was partitioned off for a number of years and used by the department of pathology. The museum was converted into a medical library and the anatomical museum was relocated to the north end of the dissecting room. The original two lecture rooms at the southern end of the building were converted to one large lecture theatre, which is still used today.

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Photograph of Windle Building taken 1990s. With the relocation of the Anatomy and Physiology Departments to the Western Gate Complex a new era for the building has begun.

The ground floor of the Clarendon Building housed departments of pathology, material medica, and physiology. The departments of Anatomy and Physiology were originally one, however in 1907 the departments were separated. The President of the University Professor Windle was appointed Professor of Anatomy and, Professor DT Barry was appointed Professor of Physiology. Physiology now operated as its own department, located on the ground floor of the medical building with the department of Pathology. An operating room, physiological laboratory and histological and biochemical laboratories were all subsequently added on the ground floor.

Further Developments in the Department of Anatomy

old medical library

Photograph of Medical library taken in the 1980s this area was then transformed into the then new dissecting room


In the early 1980’s under the direction of Professor John Fraher the Anatomy Department was completely renovated internally. The Boole library was opened in 1982 and this allowed for the relocation of the considerable medical library materials from the medical  building to the new Boole library. This freeing up of space in the medical building then allowed  for the construction of a a modern mortuary facility and a new Dissecting room, which was designed in keeping with the architectural ambience of the original building.‌‌

A modern histology laboratory, and several research laboratories to house new equipment and techniques for microscopy and analysis, were also added. Since the 1980s the principal research activity of the department has been in the field of Neuroscience.


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Department of Anatomy research moves to Bioscience Institute

The opening of the Biosciences Institute in 2002 expanded the research capabilities of the department, increasing dramatically the number of postgraduate research students and offering a BSc degree in Neuroscience, the first in Ireland.

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New laboratories allowed the expansion of its imaging facilities and today, in addition to being a busy research department, the Department of Anatomy runs a state of the art microscopy and analysis facility in its Imaging Centre, offering microscopy expertise to other departments and industry.





Anatomy Department relocates to Western Gate Building

In September 2011 under the direction of Professor John Cryan the department relocated its undergraduate teaching to the Western Gate Building. The teaching of Anatomy in UCC’s Windle Building had come to an end with the Department’s move to its new state of the art laboratories in the Western Gate Building.

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Photograph of the last students in the Windle Building Dissecting room September 2011


For thousands of medical and dental students Anatomy teaching had been synonymous with the neo-Gothic Windle building named after Professor Bertram Windle former Chair of Anatomy and President of the then Queen's College Cork. Professor John F. Cryan who recently took up the post of Chair of Anatomy described the move as  "a truly momentous day for the department and for the Medical School in general; it is not just the end of an era but also the beginning of a very exciting episode in the modernisation of the department and discipline in general."    

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Windle Building front, lecture theatre and FLAME sculpture




Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, Western Gate Building

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Western Gate Building new location of the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience

‌This is a landmark time in the Department’s history as it has recently moved to its new teaching and research facilities in the Western Gateway Building.

This new state of the art facility offers huge potential for further development of teaching and research in the Department. Moreover, changes in medical education and advances in Medical Imaging are changing the landscape of how Anatomy is taught in professional programmes

Photograph of new FLAME laboratory in the Western Gateway Building

The FLAME Laboratory takes its name from the sculpture Flame which was commissioned in recognition of the altruism of those who donate their bodies for medical education and research.  FLAME is an acronym for Facility for Learning Anatomy Morphology and Embryology. FLAME is the title of a piece of specially commissioned sculpture by the late artist Alexandra Wejchert. The sculpture represents the flame of knowledge which leads to the light of understanding.


2016 Windle building changes its Anatomy

  • Windle Building changes its Anatomy

    26 Nov 2016
    Windle Building changes its Anatomy

    Europe’s long-term lending institution, the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed a €100 million loan agreement with University College Cork on  Friday 25th November 2016 ensuring the continuation and completion of the transformation of the Windle Building into a state of the art student hub. The Windle Building which had until 2011 been home to the Department of Anatomy, has since the summer begun a seismic transformation into the ‘Student Hub Project’.

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Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience

Anatamaíocht agus Néareolaíocht

Room 2.33, 2nd Floor, Western Gateway Building, University College, Cork, Ireland