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The Catholic University of Ireland (Irish: Ollscoil Chaitliceach na hÉireann) was a Catholic university in Dublin, Ireland and was founded in 1851 following the Synod of Thurles in 1850, and in response to the Queen's University of Ireland and its associated colleges which were nondenominational. Cardinal Cullen had previously forbidden Catholics from attending these "godless colleges".[1]


On 18 May 1854 the Catholic University of Ireland was formally established with five faculties of law, letters, medicine, philosophy and theology with John Henry Newman (later Cardinal) as the Rector. Lectures commenced on 3 November 1854, with the registration of seventeen students, the first being Daniel O'Connell, grandson of the notable Catholic politician Daniel O'Connell. In 1856 the University Church opened.

In 1861 Dr Bartholomew Woodlock, the rector from 1860–1879, tried to secure land for a building near Holy Cross College Clonliffe, the establishment to be known as St. Patrick's University. Plans were drawn up by an architect, J.J. McCarthy, and a foundation stone laid.[2] Cardinal Cullen was against the idea of educating lay and clerical students on the same premises. However this plan was shelved because of the expansion of the railway line,[3] and a church and monastery was built on the site. Under the name St. Patrick's University night classes were advertised by the University under Dr. Woodlock's name

Some feeder secondary schools were established for the CUI. The nearby Catholic University School was joined by St. Flannan's College in Co. Clare and Catholic University High School in Waterford.


The Catholic University was neither a recognised university so far as the civil authorities were concerned, nor an institution offering recognised degrees. Newman had little success in establishing the new university, though over £250,000 had been raised from the laity to fund it. Though they held the foundation money as trustees, the hierarchy in 1859 sent most of it to support an Irish Brigade led by Myles O'Reilly to help defend Rome in the Second Italian War of Independence.

Newman left the university in 1857. According to Lytton Strachey (in his book, Eminent Victorians, p. 72)[4]

Subsequently the school went into a serious decline; in 1879 only three students had registered. The situation changed in 1880 when the recognised Royal University of Ireland came into being and students of the Catholic University were entitled to sit the Royal University examinations and receive its degrees.[5]

After the 1880 reforms the Catholic University consisted of a number of constituent colleges, including St Patrick's College, Maynooth and Cecilia St. Medical School (see below), with much of the original university then merging into another of its colleges, University College Dublin. Following the 1879 Act all Catholic Colleges including Carlow College, Holy Cross College and Blackrock College (The French College) came under the Catholic University.[6] Subsequently other seminaries such as St. Kieran's College, Kilkenny, the Carmelite College, Terenure became affiliated to the Catholic University and hence the new Royal University.

University College was passed to the control of the Jesuits in 1883, when it housed the faculties of the Catholic University except medicine.

National University of Ireland, 1909

In 1909 the Catholic University essentially came to an end with the creation of the National University of Ireland, with University College Dublin as a constituent, however the Catholic University of Ireland remained a legal entity until 1911.[7]

Catholic University Medical School

The Catholic University Medical School had commenced lectures for medical students in 1855, in Cecilia Street, Dublin. The recognition of its graduates by chartered institutions (the RCSI) ensured its success, unlike the associated Catholic University.[8] This ensured that the medical school became the most successful constituent college of the Catholic University and by 1900 the medical school had become the largest medical school in Ireland.

The 1908 reforms reconstituted the Catholic University Medical School as the Faculty of Medicine of University College Dublin, with Dr. D. J. Coffey, M.B.(RUI), Professor of Physiology, Catholic University Medical School, becoming the first president of UCD.

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