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Trinity College
Dublin, Ireland

[Tuesday - 11/12/02] Trinity was founded just before the Tudor monarchy had completed the task of extending its authority over the whole of Ireland. The idea of an Irish university had been in the air for some time, and in 1592 a small group of Dublin citizens obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth incorporating Trinity College juxta Dublin. The Corporation of Dublin granted to the new foundation the lands and dilapidated buildings of the monastery of All Hallows, lying about a quarter of a mile south-east of the city walls. Two years later a few Fellows and students began to work in the new College, which then consisted of one small square. During the next fifty years the community increased thanks to endowments (including considerable landed estates), new fellowships, etc.

The second half-century of the College's history was a time of turmoil, marked in Ireland by an interregnum and two civil wars. In 1641 the Provost fled, and two years later the College had to pawn its plate; some Fellows were expelled by the Commonwealth authorities, others were excluded at the Restoration, and in 1689 all the Fellows and students were expelled when the College was turned into a barrack for the soldiers of James II. But the seventeenth century was also an age of ardent learning; and Trinity men such as Ussher, a kindly polymath, Marsh, the orientalist, Dodwell, the historian, Stearne, who founded the Irish College of Physicians, and Molyneux, the correspondent of Locke, were typical of the adventurous and wide-ranging scholarship of their day.

The eighteenth century was for the most part a peaceful era in Ireland, and Trinity shared its calm, though at the beginning of the period a few Jacobites and at its end a very small group of political radicals seriously perturbed the College authorities. During this century, Trinity was the university of the Protestant ascendancy. Parliament, meeting on the other side of College Green, viewed it benevolently and made generous grants for building. The first building of the new age was the Library, begun in 1712; then followed the Printing House and the Dining Hall; and during the second half of the century Parliament Square slowly emerged. The great building drive was completed in the early nineteenth century by Botany Bay, the square which derives its name in part from the herb garden it once contained.

Three of the eighteenth century provosts were outstanding. Richard Baldwin (1717-58) was a strong disciplinarian who strove to prevent the boisterous high spirits that characterized contemporary Anglo-Irish society from playing havoc with academic peace. His successor, Francis Andrews (1758-74), was a member of parliament and a widely travelled and popular man of the world, whose taste and social ambitions are reflected in the Provost's House, erected in 1759. He provided in his will for the foundation of a chair of astronomy and an observatory. He was succeeded by John Hely-Hutchinson (1774-94), a barrister and an enlightened if self-interested politician. Eager to widen the curriculum, he was responsible for the foundation of chairs of modern languages, and he pushed forward the eighteenth century building program. His sometimes not over-scrupulous approach to College problems involved him in wrangles with many of the Fellows, and his provostship is the Dublin equivalent of Bentley's stormy and litigious mastership of Trinity, Cambridge.

The College greatly expanded its activities and programs and this had an outward sign in the buildings erected after 1800. Just after the middle of the century, the New Square was completed by the erection of the Museum Building; and new buildings at the east end of the College Park expressed the increasing importance of the natural sciences and of medicine in the life of the College.

Between 1830 and 1900, twenty new chairs were founded reflecting the versatility, industry and the self-confidence of the Victorian age. The Trinity tradition, which, even in an age of increasing specialization favored a wide range of interests, had a stimulating effect on members of the College.

Momentous changes were taking place in Ireland, and these were reflected in the controversies that raged round the government's Irish university policy. Between 1873 and 1908, schemes were proposed by the government of the day which would have made the College a member of a federated university, in which several other Irish academic bodies would have been included. These schemes were strenuously and effectively resisted by Trinity as threats to its independence. On the other hand the College progressively abandoned the exclusive religious character that, in common with Oxford and Cambridge, it had hitherto borne. As early as 1793, Roman Catholics had been permitted to enter and to take degrees in Trinity. In 1854, non-foundation scholarships, open to candidates of all denominations, were instituted. In 1873, all religious tests, except those connected with the Divinity School, were abolished.

One innovation of far-reaching significance aroused relatively little controversy. In 1904, women were admitted to the University and by 1914 they already amounted to 16 per cent of the students on the College books. In 1908, a women's hall of residence, Trinity Hall, was founded. In 1934 the first woman professor was appointed and women continue to play an increasing part in many spheres of College life. In 1968, women were elected to Fellowship. From 1972, men and women students have resided in the College and at Trinity Hall.

The Great War of 1914-18 marks in more than one way the end of an era for Trinity College. When conditions again became settled, Ireland had undergone a constitutional revolution and the College found itself in a divided Ireland outside the United Kingdom. Moreover, at a time when the newer universities in the British Isles were growing in strength and prestige, Trinity College found itself lacking in the resources required to maintain its position in the new age.

In 1920, a royal commission recommended that the College needed both a large capital grant and an annual subsidy. But the change of regime occurred before its recommendations could be implemented, and it was not until 1947 that the College secured an annual grant from the State. The grant now represents approximately 53 per cent of total recurrent income (excluding research grants and contracts). Between 1900 and 1999, ninety-four new chairs have been created.

In recent years, student numbers have risen well above what had come to be considered the norm. In 1998-9 they stood at 13,700 as compared with 1,500 in 1939. The increase in numbers has brought greater diversity, with students coming from as many as 70 countries and often spread over all six continents. Demand for places from Irish applicants has progressively reduced the vacancies available to non-Irish students. In 1998-9, the undergraduate intake was about 90 per cent Irish: the proportion of non-Irish students to be admitted in the future will not, it is hoped, fall below 10 per cent of the total annual admissions. There is no restriction on the number of postgraduate or one-year students subject to availability of places in certain areas. This change in the composition of the student body has been accompanied by a similar change in the composition of the academic staff.

Until the nineteen-thirties, the great majority of the holders of academic posts in Trinity College were doubly indigenous, being Irishmen and Dublin University graduates. But since 1945 many of those appointed to the staff have come from other universities. Probably this is one of the factors which accounts for the accelerated pace of change, which has been a striking characteristic of the period since the end of the waróchange reflected in an increase of the representative element on the Board, in a radical recasting of the arts curriculum, in the erection of new buildings and the adaptation of old buildings to new needs, in the improvement of College rooms and the provision of new amenities for undergraduates, in the extension to women of those privileges previously reserved to men, and in the institution of joint student-staff advisory committees covering most aspects of College life.


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