President's News

UCC Reconnects with its 175-Year History

25 Nov 2020

On 30 December 2020, UCC celebrates the 175th anniversary of its establishment. On that date in 1845, royal letters patent granted charters to Queen's College, Cork, and to its sister colleges at Belfast and Galway. Throughout the current academic year, in which we continue to respond to unprecedented challenges, we will also reflect on this significant milestone through the theme of 'Reconnection'. We wish to reconnect with our past and our staff, students and graduates as part of our evolving role as a dynamic and vibrant regionally-placed university with global impact.

At their time of establishment, the Queen's Colleges were a radical and positive development in higher education in Ireland. Autonomous, non-denominational, non-residential, and regional, they opened the door to affordable university education for a great many young people in Cork, Galway and Belfast, and beyond. A generous system of scholarships and prizes, based on competitive examinations, rewarded academic merit while increasing access for students from less well-off backgrounds. Queen's College Cork's first president, Sir Robert Kane, played a key role in shaping the open, independent-minded, and progressive ethos of the three Queen's Colleges in Ireland by chairing and guiding the drafting of the common statutes, and promoting the role the colleges would play in Ireland's economic and cultural development. In Cork, he assembled a strong team of forward-looking teachers, including George Boole, our first Professor of Mathematics, whose work on symbolic logic and Boolean algebra laid the foundations for the digital information age.

Queen's College Cork (QCC) first opened for lectures in November 1849, as Ireland was recovering from the ravages of The Great Famine. Its first students exemplified Kane's ethos of independence and ambition by standing up to the initial suspicion and opposition towards this bold new educational experiment. Our first five female students entered the Faculty of Arts in 1886, and in 1898 Dora Allman and Lucy Smith became our first female Medicine graduates, Smith later becoming the first woman member of UCC's Governing Body. We are proud to have appointed Ireland's first female professor in 1910, when Mary Ryan was selected as Professor of Romance Languages; and in 1989, Professor Maire Mulcahy became UCC's first female Vice-President, by which time women outnumbered men among our student body.

QCC welcomed students from Britain and the British empire, and trained many doctors, engineers, and scientists who made major contributions to public life around the world, including for example, Edwin J Butler (Medicine, 1898, DSc, 1920), whose scientific research on blight and other plant diseases helped improve farming and alleviate famine in India. Queen's College Cork became University College Cork in 1909, bringing a new spirit of openness which saw rising student numbers and strengthening global engagement. Many students, graduates and staff took part in the First World War, particularly in the Royal Army Medical Corps, with at least 30 losing their lives, including EH Harper, Professor of Mathematical Physics. Many members of the UCC community were active in Ireland’s War of Independence, including Patrick O’Sullivan, who hurled with UCC’s Collegians, and was executed at Victoria Barracks, Cork, and is buried beneath the War of Independence memorial on the grounds of UCC; and Elizabeth ‘Lil’ Conlon, a UCC clerical officer and founder member and historian of Cumann na mBan.

After the Second World War, numbers of international students began to grow. In 1946, UCC welcomed its first group of international students, 18 Polish refugees exiled by war and deprived of educational opportunities. Further Polish students followed in subsequent years. This compassionate impulse remains strong in UCC. In 2018, we were awarded University of Sanctuary status, in recognition of our achievements in removing barriers to access to third level education for asylum seekers and refugees in Ireland. Our International Office now welcomes and supports thousands of students from around the world who continue to enrich the educational experience while broadening our horizons and expanding our connections, impact, and reach.

Removing barriers and extending opportunities through education have always been core objectives for UCC. President Windle's landmark University extension lectures commenced in 1911 and were succeeded by President O'Rahilly's inspired diploma courses for workers in 1946. These set the foundation for our thriving Adult and Continuing Education Department which continues to successfully provide effective adult education for up to 3,000 learners annually. Our Access Office now brings together services for students and prospective students, encompassing those with disabilities, those affected by economic hardship, those from the Travelling community, and those returning to education as adults. Our Quercus Talented Students Programme recognises talent and promotes excellence in diverse fields of human endeavour. Access services and facilities have been centralised in our new Student Hub, demonstrating our commitment to improving and enriching the university experience for all students from all backgrounds.

Students, of course, are 'the life of the place', and are central to our mission, continuing to inspire us and each other with their energy, creativity, commitment, and compassion. Their clubs and societies have created lasting bonds of friendships and shared experiences. Their Students' Union has provided leadership and support for generations. Our students have driven and embraced positive change. For example, a Students' Union officer chairs our Green Campus Committee, and students were key to UCC becoming the first university in the world to be awarded a Green Flag by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Like our first students in 1849 and our pioneering first female students, they embody our enduring goal of fostering independent thinking with shared ambition.

In sport, it would be invidious to choose from among the many achievements of UCC students and graduates. One event stands out: the world's first national inter-varsity athletics meeting, organised by QCC students, and held at the Mardyke Cricket Grounds on 19 May 1873, bringing together athletes from the Queen's Colleges in Cork, Belfast and Galway. Today, our Mardyke Arena provides state of the art facilities to support our sports men and women in going higher, further, and faster.

Over the last 175 years, with the support of governments and philanthropists, UCC has developed a strong and distinct cultural identity, including the historic Quadrangle, Aula Maxima, and Honan Chapel, to more recent architectural gems such as the Glucksman Gallery. Our collections include Ogham stones and Charles Darwin specimens, and within the Library are rare manuscripts, early printed books and valuable archival material.

UCC's relationship with its graduates is a special one. In this anniversary year, we are reaching out through our Alumni and Development Office's UCC175 Reconnect programme. This programme encourages graduates to relive and share their memories of UCC, and to come together to promote our graduate attributes through worthwhile projects. We will be contacting alumni directly, and more information is available on our website.

In spring 2021, Interim President O'Halloran will host an event on the Quad to mark UCC 175, with involvement of both Quercus and Access student representatives from each of the four Colleges of the University, celebrating our history, our diversity, and our shared ambition. This event will be organised in strict compliance with public health rules and guidance. Other UCC 175 events and activities will be announced later in the current academic year, via our website and social media channels.

As we continue to respond to the present global public health emergency, UCC researchers are playing a full part in international efforts to combat Covid-19 and its impacts, and are continuing to make breakthroughs in many areas of research, addressing global challenges, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Our staff continue to deliver world-class education through blended learning, and to plan for the future. We are committed to delivering a high quality and flexible student experience, supporting students to achieve their desired career and personal development outcomes. As society is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, business and industry are increasingly integrating virtual and online work into their operations; at UCC we are ensuring that our graduates will be work ready for this rapidly changing environment. Our students continue to display extraordinary resilience and commitment.

‘Ar scáth a céile a mhaireann na daoine’. Now, more than ever, UCC's communities - students, staff, alumni - are standing strong together, for and with their families, friends, and communities. They are sustained and inspired by the friendships, learning, and values nurtured during their college experience. Values such as resilience, compassion, and respect are central to this role. Today, UCC continues to draw on its 175 year history. We continue to be a force for positive change, a locally-rooted University with global impact. We invite you to share with us in reconnecting with our history and in drawing on it as we face the future together with confidence.

Mile buíochas agus fanaigí slán.


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