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Conferring Traditions

The History of UCC

UCC was established in 1845 as one of three Queen’s Colleges - at Cork, Galway and Belfast. These new colleges were established during the reign of Queen Victoria, and named after her.


Queen's College, Cork (QCC) was established to provide access to higher education in the Irish province of Munster. Cork was chosen for the new college due to its place at the centre of transatlantic trade at the time and the presence of existing educational initiatives such as the Royal Cork Institution and a number of private medical schools.


The site chosen for the new college was dramatic and picturesque, on the edge of a limestone bluff overlooking the River Lee. It is associated with the educational activities of a local early Christian saint, Finbarr. It is believed that his monastery and school stood nearby, and his legend inspired UCC’s motto: ‘Where Finbarr Taught, let Munster Learn.’


On 7 November 1849, QCC opened its doors to a small group of students (only 115 students in that first session, 1849-1850) after a glittering inaugural ceremony in the Aula Maxima (Great Hall), which is still the symbolic and ceremonial heart of the University.


The limestone buildings of the Main Quadrangle (as it is now known) are built in a style inspired by the great universities of the Middle Ages, and were designed by the gifted architectural partnership of Thomas Deane and Benjamin Woodward. The iconic image of UCC, it is set in landscaped gardens and surrounds the green lawn known to all as the Quad.

From 1850, QCC was part of the Queen's University of Ireland and, from the 1880s, of the Royal University of Ireland. QCC grew during that that time, adding land and buildings, increasing student numbers and developing deep links throughout Munster and into the world beyond. By the beginning the twentieth century however, it was clear that higher education in Ireland required a new arrangement to permit the next stages of development. That change came in 1908 through the National University of Ireland (NUI), of which the former QCC, now University College Cork (UCC) is a founding member.


With the NUI, conferring ceremonies were held in UCC for the first time (previously they were all held in Dublin). These are days of ceremony and celebration, connecting our graduates and their families to the great tradition of European scholarship that goes back a thousand years.


Student superstition has it that to cross the Quad before graduation, or even to set foot on the grass, is to risk bad luck and failure in exams. On conferring days, graduates gather to cross the Quad together, and have their photograph taken there.


Since 1908, UCC has grown - from 115 students to over 20,000, from one building to dozens, from less than 20 staff to more than 1,600 today. Since 1997, we have been a university in our own right within the NUI, but we retain the UCC name as part of our heritage of learning since 1845.

Aula Maxima

The Aula Maxima (Great Hall) is the venue for many formal events - honorary conferrings, concerts, recitals and banquets. The hall is part of the original layout of University College Cork and was constructed in 1847 to the designs of Dean and Woodward.

 The window on the east wall commemorates George Boole (1815-1864), the first Professor of Mathematics at UCC, whose algebra became the foundation of modern computer science.
The ‘Professor’s Window’ on the north wall is dedicated to the memory of Robert Harkness, Professor of Geology at UCC in 1853.

 At the request of University College Cork, John J. O’Connell Architects were commissioned to advise on the restoration and upgrading of this important historic building. It is noteworthy that this was the first planning application submitted concerning a ‘Protected Structure’ under the Planning Act 2000.

 In 2004, the interior and exterior of the Aula Maxima were completely restored by John J. O’Connell Architects, using traditional materials and methods where appropriate. The works consisted of upgrading the services of the building, including mechanical, electrical and audio-visual and IT.

 The Aula Maxima was described in 1849 by The Cork Examiner as 'one of the most magnificent rooms in Ireland'. At the heart of the University, the hall is a very special setting for the post-conferring reception.


UCC Mace

The historic mace of UCC is the symbol of the authority of the university.

The shape is derived from the medieval weapon of the same name, a metal version of a wooden club, which has come to be adopted as a symbol of authority and identity by civic and other public bodies, including universities. The mace was commissioned in 1910 by Sir Bertram Windle, President of UCC, as a suitable symbol of UCC as part of the National University of Ireland (founded in 1908).

The mace is of beaten silver, decorated with surface and relief ornament, mounted 'jewels' and enamelled coats of arms. It consists of a hollow ball-shaped head surmounted by a spiked open crown, which is placed on the heads of three seated dog figures, which in turn are placed on the flat disc-shaped top of the mace stem. The stem is essentially a cylindrical tube with knops and an expanded end. The quality of the workmanship, design, construction and decoration is of the highest order.

The enamelled coats of arms are of the principal towns of Munster, with the crest of UCC. The silver is sterling silver, 97.5 % pure, weighing about 150 ounces. The mace is marked with the normal marks of assay (from The Assay Office, Goldsmiths Hall, Dublin), on the head and on the stem, as these are two separate parts that screw together just under the three canine figures supporting the head of the mace.

The makers, Egan’s of Patrick Street and Maylor Street in Cork, made this as their first item in modern times, reviving an industry that had died as a result of cheaper, mass-produced, English imports. The mace is thus the very first item of modern Cork silver. Egan’s silver is highly sought-after today by collectors and connoisseurs.

The stem of the mace is inscribed, in Latin:

Me Socii et Alumni Pii Collegii Universitatis apud Corcagiam Almae Matri Suae Dono Dederunt A.D. MCMX. Bertramo Windle Praeside. Egan et Filii Argentarii Corcagienses me Fecerunt

In English this can be read as:

The pious friends and alumni of University College Cork gave me as a gift to their Alma Mater in [the year of Our Lord] 1910, in the Presidency of Bertram Windle. Egan and Sons, Silversmiths of Cork, made me

Notice how the mace is made to speak of itself. This is typical of ancient inscriptions on precious and important objects. Translation and related notes kindly supplied by Professor Keith Sidwell, Department of Ancient Classics, UCC.

The mace is still used at conferring ceremonies in UCC, being carried in academic procession in front of the President by the Macebearer, and displayed in front of him as he confers degrees on our graduates.

The Quad

The Main Quadrangle was built for Queen’s College Cork, which was established in 1845 to provide third-level education in the province of Munster. Building works began in early 1847 and it opened on 7 November 1849. 'The Quad' is built of distinctive Cork limestone, quarried locally and known for its very light colour.

The architects were Sir Thomas Deane (1782-1871), and Benjamin Woodward (1819-1861). They were amongst the leading architects of their day in the Gothic style and are particularly known for two university museum buildings, in Dublin and in Oxford.

The Gothic style was considered the most suitable one for colleges at that time, being inspired by the great medieval colleges in England. This style of Victorian architecture revived the forms and decoration of medieval buildings.

Deane and Woodward became particularly noted for their use of decorative carvings of plants, especially around doors and windows. These motifs are found here with heraldic devices, coats of arms, gargoyles and symbols of wisdom and renewal. They were carved by James and John O’Shea, highly skilled Irish stone carvers.

The term 'Quadrangle' refers to both the four-sided space enclosed, and to the buildings that enclose it. Built of only three wings set around the lawn, the original organisation was as follows:

  • the West Wing contained the lecture rooms and the professors’ rooms
  • the North Wing contained the offices and support facilities – including the library, a museum and an examination hall (the Aula Maxima)
  • the East Wing contained the residences of the President and the Vice-President of the College.

A corridor or cloister walk, now called the Stone Corridor, links the West and North wings at ground floor level. This provided staff and students with shelter in bad weather.

The building has the open side facing south, into the sunlight (and the prevailing wind with generous Cork rainfall!). The open side appears to have been an aesthetic choice, but it may also have been to create a brighter, fresher, and thus healthier environment in the College.

The building, with its interiors, gates, gate-lodges and associated grounds, is a protected structure. The nineteenth-century grounds, though extended and modified since then, are a notable example of Victorian landscaping containing important plants and trees


Bronnadh Céimeanna

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