Most allegiances in UCD at this time lay firmly with the Irish Parliamentary Party, as witnessed at the Home Rule demonstration in March 1912. An estimated 100,000 supporters thronged the streets of Dublin, gathering at four platforms to hear speeches from prominent nationalists, including John Redmond. The fourth platform belonged to UCD, where staff and students spoke in favour of Redmond’s movement.
While the middle-class staff and students of UCD were not affected by the lockout to the degree of their counterparts in other parts of the city, they were not totally aloof. In October 1913, Tom Kettle, the Professor of National Economics, founded the Industrial Peace Committee in an effort to heal divisions between the workers and their employers. The Committee, which counted some of Kettle’s colleagues in its number, was short-lived, though it did give rise to the Civic League, which in turn led to the formation of the Irish Citizen Army.
An article written by Eoin MacNeill, Professor of Early and Medieval Irish History at UCD, acted as the catalyst in the formation of the Irish Volunteer movement. MacNeil became the head of the organisation, which counted several UCD staff and students in its ranks. A year later, MacNeill would also lead a split in the movement between Redmondite supporters of the War and more radical Irish nationalists.
A number of UCD staff, students and graduates played an important role in the formation and subsequent running of Cumann na mBan. Agnes O’Farrelly, lecturer in Modern Irish at UCD, presided over the foundation meeting, while student Louise Gavan Duffy was on the first provisional committee. Amongst the first women in the country to receive a university education, the foundation of Cumann na mBan ensured that women such as O’Farrelly and Gavan Duffy would not be marginalised in the decisive events of the coming decade.
The impact of the War was felt throughout Irish society, not least in UCD. By 1916, around 450 staff, students and graduates had departed for Europe with the British Army, including Professor Tom Kettle, who would lose his life in the Somme. The War also affected those who chose to stay at home, as government censure and funding cuts put pressure on the day-to-day running of the university.
In the week preceding the Rising, Eoin MacNeill tried and failed to prevent the insurrection, which he felt was doomed to failure. His colleague, Thomas MacDonagh, commandeered Jacob’s factory during the week, and was one of several UCD staff, students and graduates to take part in the Rising. In the GPO, student James Ryan and graduate Louise Gavan Duffy joined Padraig Pearse, who had retained a strong connection with the college throughout the previous decade. Both Pearse and MacDonagh were executed on the 3rd May.
For UCD, the War of Independence (January 1919- July 1921) reached its most intense point in the winter of 1920-1921. This period was bookended by the executions of two students, Kevin Barry in November 1920 and his friend Frank Flood in March, 1921. In between, with tensions running high in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the college and staff members’ homes were raided, though the IRA Chief of Staff Richard Mulcahy evaded capture, using an office in Earlsfort Terrace as one of his many hideouts.
One of the seminal events in the history of 20th Century Ireland took place within the walls of UCD. At the request of the 2nd Dail, the debates on the Anglo-Irish Treaty were held in Earlsfort Terrace. The divisions that emerged during the debates would continue to reverberate throughout the rest of the century.
The raw divisions that defined the Civil War were epitomised by the execution of Rory O’Connor. The execution warrant for O’Connor, who had led the seizure of the Four Courts, was signed by his former friend and fellow UCD alumnus Kevin O’Higgins. O’Higgins would himself be assassinated by republicans in 1927.
After the tumultuous events of the preceding decade, the election of 1923 marked something of a new beginning for the Irish state. The majority of the people voted in favour of the pro-treaty Cumann na nGaedhal, paving the way for a new state in which UCD would continue to play an important part: Eoin MacNeill, Kevin O’Higgins and Patrick Hogan hold positions in the cabinet, while Hugh Kennedy becomes the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State.
100 years ago, as the steps towards independence gathered momentum, many staff, students and graduates of University College Dublin played a pivotal role in the discourse and actions that took place.
Today, University College Dublin continues to value the ethos of justice and equality, alongside a sense of cultural identity that shapes our thinking and prompts our debate.
As a major holder of archives of national and international significance relating to the period 1912 to 1923, our vision for these commemorations is to inform national debate and understanding with an objective scholarly voice, in a manner that brings education and new perspectives to the fore.
Date: 19 October 2018
Venue: UCD Humanities Institute, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4
The symposium examines the role of visual culture in constructing and critiquing the state and national identity in the aftermath of political independence. The foundation of the Irish Free State was marred by partition, Civil War and division over sociopolitical goals. Other newly independent European nations in the post 1918...