The history of Galway as an educational centre dates from the close of the Middle Ages. The Free School of Galway became so celebrated for its classical learning that it had more than 1,200 students from all over the country attending its courses under Alexander Lynch in 1615, when it was suppressed by King James I.
The city received a major economic and educational boost on October 30 1849 (170 years ago yesterday ) when Queen’s College opened its doors to students for the first time. The construction of the college provided much needed employment during the Famine. The site for the university cost £2,575 7s 0d, and the legal expenses were £155 6s 11d. Surveys and valuation fees cost £5 10s 0d, the architect’s commission was £600, and the building cost £4,397 2s 5d.
The college had a president, a vice-president, and 20 professors. It opened for registration on October 15, lectures began on October 20, and the formal opening was on the 30th. Sixty eight candidates were admitted, 38 of whom were Catholic, 22 were members of the Established Church, and eight were Presbyterian. The institution was known as Queen’s College, Galway, and it “opened under unfavourable circumstances due to the small size of the town, the pressure of distress throughout the province and the almost total lack of schools in it”. It helped supply the want which had long been felt in Ireland of an improved academic education equally accessible to all classes of the community without religious distinction.
However, in 1850 the Synod of Thurles did not agree and Catholics were prevented, under pain of suspension, from taking part in the administration as the college was deemed to be “dangerous to faith and morals”.
Though the university was open to either sex, it was not until 1896 that its first female graduate, Hannah Moylan, took a BSc. Margaret Aimers and Margaret Clarke were the first female arts graduates when they took a BA in 1900, and Alice Perry was the first woman graduate of engineering in Ireland when she took her BE in 1906 with first class honours.
On December 20, 1908, the college received its new title University College Galway, and the numbers began to increase.
Our photograph was taken some 15 years after the opening and was kindly given to us by Chetham Library in Manchester. It shows the original quadrangle building and the gate posts. Most of the students we see were wearing either top hats or bowler hats. The high wall, part of which we can see on the left, was lowered in recent years which helped to open up the college to the public.
A colleague told me that three colleges were being built at the same time, Belfast, Cork, and Galway. Somehow, the plans got mixed up with the result that Galway got the good design and Queen’s in Belfast got the inferior one.