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Title: University Education in Ireland

Author: Samuel Haughton

Release Date: March 8, 2010 [EBook #31553]

Language: English

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Trinity College


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The political condition of Ireland is, at present, grave; and, in the event of a war with the United States, would become menacing, to England.

Irish politicians assert—and it is partly admitted by their opponents—that, in the existing state of Ireland, three questions demand an immediate solution: these questions are, the Land Question, the Church Question, and the Education Question.

The tenant farmers of Ireland wish for fixity of tenure, and care but little for compensation for improvements, except as a means of obtaining a practical fixity of tenure; and they would, unquestionably, rejoice to see transferred to themselves, as occupiers of the soil, the rights now enjoyed by absentee noblemen and landlords. It is the opinion of many that the Land question cannot be settled without such a change of owners as would practically amount to a revolution.

With respect to the question of the Church, the more intelligent laymen of the Irish National party openly avow their wish to alienate the property of the Church, on the ground that its existence forms a barrier to the union of Irish Protestants with the Catholic majority in the formation of a truly National Irish party. It is asserted, and apparently not without reason, that if the Irish Protestants felt themselves cast off by England,[4] and their Church endowments confiscated, they might become more willing to join their countrymen in an anti-English policy, which the rude breath of war might some day fan into a demand for an Irish Republic, under the guarantee of France and America. It is for English politicians to decide how far the advantages of religious equality would compensate for the risk of national disloyalty.

The questions of the Land and Church in Ireland will, doubtless, be fully discussed in the House of Commons by persons acquainted with those questions, and competent to do them justice; but it may be fairly doubted whether the question of Education in Ireland will be examined with as full a knowledge as will be brought to bear on the other questions. The following lines are written in the hope of adding a contribution of facts towards the discussion of one branch of the Education question—that which relates to University Education in Ireland.

My apology for writing on this question is, that I have been a Fellow of Trinity College for nearly a quarter of a century, during which time I have taken an active part in the educational reforms which have placed the Graduates of Trinity College foremost in all the competitions for the public services of India, of the Army, and of the Colonies. I am also entitled to be heard as a Clerical Fellow of Trinity College, holding in trust for his brother Protestants the precious gift of education based on pure religion, handed down to us by our forefathers, in defence of which all true Protestants are prepared, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives.

Two proposals were discussed, and a third was incidentally alluded to, in the summer of 1867, in the House of Commons, respecting University Education in Ireland; one of these proposals involves a betrayal of the religious base on which the Protestant College of Elizabeth was founded; and another involves a surrender for ever of the high literary and scientific standard of Dublin University, and a permanent lowering of high class education in Ireland. Against the one I feel[5] bound to protest, as an earnest Protestant, and against the other as an advocate for the advancement of science and letters.

The proposals made in Parliament respecting University Education are all founded on the generally admitted fact that Roman Catholics in Ireland have not got the same facilities for University Education as the Protestants of that country, and that it is expedient at once to redress this grievance. In order to do so, it has been proposed to do one or other of three things:—

  1. To secularize Trinity College, by throwing open its Fellowships and Scholarships to all Students, irrespective of religious qualification.
  2. To open the University of Dublin to other Colleges than Trinity College, thus transforming the University of Dublin into a National Irish University, on the model of the University of France.
  3. To grant a Charter and Endowment to a Roman Catholic University, in which the education given shall be based on religion, as in Trinity College at present.

I shall endeavour to state briefly the objections which seem to me to be so fatal to either of the first two proposals, as to leave us no alternative but to accept the third horn of the Educational dilemma:—


Trinity College was founded in Dublin by Queen Elizabeth, in 1591, as a Protestant University, and for the purpose of giving to Irish Protestants a University Education, based on the doctrines and discipline of the Reformed Church of England. This infant University was fostered by the guiding hand of the great Lord Burghley, its interests were defended by the ill-fated Essex, and its Statutes were drafted by the highly gifted Bishop Bedell.

Trinity College has been well described by her enemies as a “handful of Protestant Clergymen;”[6] because her Fellows, with the exception of three, were required to take Holy Orders in the English Church; and at the present moment five only of her thirty-two Fellowships are permitted by Statute to be held by laymen.

Trinity College is now nearly three centuries in existence, and may be regarded as the only English institution that ever succeeded in Ireland.

The sons of the Alma Mater founded by Elizabeth may be excused if they point with pride to the names of Ussher, King, and Magee, among her theologians; to Berkeley, Brinkley, and Hamilton, among her thinkers and mathematicians; and to Swift, Goldsmith, Burke, and Plunket, amongst those whom she has given to literature, oratory, and politics, whose names shall live so long as religion, science, and letters attract the respect and claim the study of educated Englishmen.

Trinity College has never been, and never was intended to be, a national institution; her emoluments, her Fellowships and Scholarships, are the property of the Irish members of the English Church; and the proposal to throw them open to the competition of Roman Catholics and Dissenters is a proposal for the confiscation, so far, of the property of Irish Protestants. Trinity College has well and faithfully discharged the part she was required to fill; she has maintained the pure doctrine of the English Church against all opponents; she has reared her Students as faithful children of that Church; she has given them an education that enables them to compete successfully with all rivals in the walks of literature and science; and it cannot be fairly alleged against her as a fault that she has not provided for the educational wants of Irish Catholics; she was never intended to do so.

The lovers of the gorgeous Rose need not blush because she wants the colour and grace of the beautiful Lily; and I may well be pardoned for believing that no brighter or fairer flower blooms in the garden of the West, than the Tudor Rose planted in Dublin by the proud Elizabeth.[7]

In order to estimate rightly the effects of the secularization of Trinity College, both upon the Protestants and the Roman Catholics of Ireland, it will be necessary to give a numerical view of the relative proportions of the different religions and professions among the Students of that College. Taking an average of the past ten years, there are 1200 Students on the books of Trinity College. Of these 1200 Students, 800 are in daily attendance upon lectures, and may be classified as follows:—

1. Divinity Students, 160
2. Medical Students, 240
3. Law Students, 70
4. Engineering Students, 60
5. Civil Service of India, 30
6. Non-professional Students, 240
Total, 800

In order to find the proportion of Roman Catholics,[1] I have taken, at random, five years from 1855 to 1859, during which 1378 Students entered Trinity College, of whom 80 were Roman Catholics, and 61 were Protestant Dissenters and Jews. We may, therefore, assume that the 1200 Students are distributed as follows:—

1. English Church, 1077
2. Roman Catholic Church, 70
3. Protestant Dissenters, 53
Total, 1200

The preceding figures give an average of six per cent. of Roman Catholic Students in Trinity College, and in no department of the College do they exceed ten per cent. Thus, in the Medical School, in which there is a larger proportion than in other professional schools, during the four years ending 1867, out of 300 Students matriculated in Medicine, exactly thirty were Roman Catholics, and three were Jews.


Let us now examine briefly the effect of secularizing Trinity College upon the Protestant and Roman Catholic Students respectively.

It cannot be believed by any one, that the passing of an Act of Parliament secularizing Trinity College would alter in the slightest degree the sentiments and wishes of the 1100 Students of the English Church, or those of the parents and guardians who placed them in Trinity College, knowing and expecting that they would there receive, not only a liberal education, but instruction and training in the principles of the Church of England. Those 1100 young and intelligent Students would still demand an education based upon religion; a demand which would be promptly answered by the Clerical Fellows of the College; and it cannot be doubted that, if they were well led by earnest and competent teachers, they would found a second Trinity College within the walls, which would perpetuate the principles of the College founded by Elizabeth. Such a movement the Parliament would find itself unable to control; for the portion of the funds of Trinity College that is now expended on the education of the Clergy would be allowed, in common justice, to be allocated in future to the same object; and the Clerical Professors and Fellows would gather round them the germ of the Trinity College of the future, faithful to the traditions of the past, and perchance surpassing the reputation of the old College for learning.

From what I know of the earnest spirit of Irish Protestants, and of their determination to secure for their children an education founded on the pure word of God, I believe that the Clerical Tutors of the College would at once transfer to themselves the great majority of the Protestant Students of Trinity College.

Some 100 or 200 Students might prefer to receive the instruction, and reward the care, of such lay Fellows as might find their way into the secularized Corporation, and thus a permanent domestic schism would become established between the clerical and lay elements of the College,[9] which are now happily at peace. Whatever might be the future of the College, it is certain that, at the outset, the Secular Fellows of the College would have to undergo the rivalry of a trained band of Protestant teachers, supported by sympathizing Students, both smarting under an angry sense of wrong and injustice.

Let us now inquire how the secularization of Trinity College would please the Roman Catholic party in Ireland. The Roman Catholic Clergy warn their flocks against Trinity College as a Protestant Institution, necessarily dangerous to the principles of Catholic Students; and, in thus warning them, they are practically wise, for it is simply impossible for seventy Catholics to associate with 1100 Protestants, as equals and fellow Students, without renouncing, more or less, the narrow views respecting Protestants that prevail among the higher circles of their Hierarchy.

Trinity College, however, although considered dangerous, has never been placed by the Roman Catholic Clergy in the same category as the Queen’s Colleges, which are essentially secularized institutions, without a recognized religion, and “godless:” as such they are absolutely condemned by the Hierarchy, and faithful Catholics are prohibited from entering their walls.

The practical effect of secularizing Trinity College, if the experiment were successful, would be to convert it into a fourth Queen’s College, and it would thus become one of a class of Educational Institutions which the Church of Rome has always, and consistently, forbidden her children to enter. It is hard to see how such a plan as this can be rationally advocated, on the ground that it would satisfy the just demands of the Catholics of Ireland.

So far, therefore, as Irish Roman Catholics are concerned, the secularization of Trinity College would be to them a loss, and not a gain; for it would transfer education in this College from the list of dangerous to that of prohibited enjoyments.[10]

I need scarcely add how mean and vindictive would be the spirit that would secularize Trinity College, in order to injure the Irish Protestants, without any corresponding benefit to the Irish Catholics.

I believe, therefore, that it would be impolitic for the English Parliament to secularize Trinity College, for the following reasons:—

  1. It would irritate the Irish Protestants to deprive them of a College founded on the principles of their Church, which has done its duty, and has possessed their confidence for three centuries.
  2. It would not satisfy the just demand of the Irish Catholics for University Education, merely to admit them to the Fellowships and Scholarships of a secularized College, the principle of which they must feel bound to condemn.


The second plan that has been suggested for solving the University question in Ireland, in one form or other, amounts to a proposal to throw open the University of Dublin, or the Queen’s University in Ireland, or both, so as to embrace in one University a number of Colleges, each retaining its own system of religious training and discipline, and its own endowments, and sending up its Students to pass the Examinations of the Central University, whose functions would be reduced to those of an Examining Board.

I readily admit that this proposal is free from one of the objections I have urged against the proposal to solve the University problem by secularizing Trinity College, and that it leaves both Protestants and Catholics free to train their sons in the religious faith and traditions of their forefathers.

This advantage, although great, would, however, in my opinion, be purchased at the cost of degrading for ever the standard of University Education in Ireland.

If this objection can be established, it ought to have[11] peculiar weight in considering the question of Irish University Education. England differs essentially from Ireland, in affording to her young men countless openings in every walk of life, with or without the benefits of University Education, which in England may be regarded as a luxury enjoyed by the rich; whereas in Ireland an University Education is frequently a necessity imposed upon the sons of the less wealthy middle classes. The openings in life for young men of this class in Ireland are so very limited, that they must either emigrate, or rely on their talents and education, in pushing their way in the learned professions in England and the Colonies. Hence it follows, that any lowering of the standard of University Education in Ireland would be followed by peculiarly disastrous effects.

At the present moment, Trinity College may be regarded as a manufactory for turning out the highest class of competitors for success in the Church, at the English Bar, in the Civil Service of India, and in the Scientific and Medical Services of the Army and Navy; and any legislation which would produce the effect of lowering the present high standard of her degrees, would tend to destroy the prospects of the educated classes in Ireland, and become to those classes little short of a national calamity.

In order to establish my objection, it is necessary to call to our recollection the ancient and true notion of an University.

With the exception of Oxford and Cambridge, there is no example of an ancient University in Europe composed of a collection of free Colleges, united by the common bond of an University, of which all are members, and which conducts the Examinations for Degrees.

All other ancient Universities resemble the University of Trinity College in Dublin, in consisting of a single College possessing, either from the Pope or from the Crown, the University privilege of granting Degrees.[12]

In modern times, no nation but France has seen fit to depart from this ancient form of University Education; and in that country centralization is so popular and so complete, that the University of France, with its affiliated Colleges, has met with a success very certain not to follow a similar experiment in Ireland. All the Colleges in France are moulded upon the same type, from which no deviation is permitted; and all are under State control, which in France restrains freedom of education by the same trammels as freedom of speech, or liberty of the press. The Minister of Public Instruction can boast that when the clock strikes his telegraphed order sets in motion the tongues of his Professors in Paris, in Strasburgh, in Lyons, and that the same lectures, in almost the same words, are delivered within the same hour to all the educated youth of France. This drilling of the intellect by the sergeants of the Emperor pleases for the present the fancy of the French; it would infallibly fail in Ireland.

The condition essential to success in uniting several Colleges into a common University is sameness of type in the education given, and sameness of discipline in the various Colleges. This condition is attained in France by the centralizing and irresistible power of the State; in Oxford and in Cambridge it has grown up spontaneously, and has partially succeeded; in Oxford, however, as in Cambridge, the multiplicity of Colleges and of rival, though similar interests, has produced feebleness in the government of the central authority, which is a fault little complained of in the University of France.

I shall presently inquire whether the Colleges of Ireland present that similarity of type which is essential to the success of the experiment of fusing them all into a common University; but in the meantime, admitting, for the sake of argument, that the experiment would succeed, it is worth while to ask whether it would be an advantage to the country.

In France we see the perfection of centralization and identity in the Lyceums and Colleges of the entire[13] country; in Germany, on the contrary, we witness the full development of the ancient collegiate idea of the University; twenty-seven distinct and independent University centres of education exist among forty millions of Germans, each University differing from the other, and each possessing its peculiar type of excellence, to attract its Students. I believe that all who are acquainted with the present condition of science and letters in the two countries will be disposed to agree in thinking that the intellect of France is cramped by the imperial cradle in which it is reared, while the genius of Germany is fostered by the freedom of thought, stimulated by such excellent, though diverse centres of development, as Vienna, Munich, Heidelberg, Bonn, or Berlin.

University education in France pleases the doctrinaire, just as parterres of flowers of similar hue please the eyes of the gardener; while the Universities of Germany delight the thinker, as the graceful forms and varied colours of the flowers of some tropical forest please the traveller, whose instinctive taste prefers the charms and grace of nature to the symmetry and rules of art.

The experiment of the union of different Colleges in a common University has succeeded in France, in Oxford, and in Cambridge, in consequence of the similarity of the Colleges united together; but such an experiment attempted in Ireland would fail, as certainly as an attempt to unite Oxford and Cambridge into one University would fail.

We possess in Ireland three distinct types of Collegiate education, of which may be cited as examples—Trinity College, in Dublin; the Roman Catholic College of Carlow, and Queen’s College, in Belfast. These Colleges represent, respectively, the religious Protestant type, the Roman Catholic type, and the secular or mixed type, of Collegiate discipline and training. Any person of education acquainted with Ireland knows the impossibility of fusing such distinct elements in a common crucible; and yet each system, in its way, is excellent, and will[14] produce good fruits, if left to develope itself, and not forced upon those who conscientiously dissent from its fundamental principles.

Let us suppose, however, the experiment tried by persons only partially acquainted with education, and with the condition of Ireland—and by such only could it be attempted—then it is easy to see that success could be obtained only at the expense of lowering the standard of education.

It is plain that one or other of two things would happen: either the University Senate would be composed of persons altogether independent of the Colleges, and appointed by the State, or it would consist, as in Oxford and Cambridge, of heads of Colleges and persons representing their varied interests.

In the first case supposed we should witness the painful and degrading spectacle of Irish Colleges submitted to the rule of State-appointed, perhaps, State-paid Governors, who, under the name of an University Senate, would prescribe the curriculum for degrees, appoint Examiners, and confer the titles awarded by those Examiners.

It is not possible to suppose that a Senate appointed by an authority outside the Colleges, and consisting of persons removed from the details of University Education, would be competent to decide the weighty and important questions that must come before them; in fact, a Senate constituted as I have supposed, in discussing questions of education, would be about as likely to come to a wise decision as a collection of shoemakers speculating on the structure of a watch, and making proposals for its improvement, who will certainly destroy the delicate machinery they are unable to understand, unless they have the sagacity to call in the watchmakers to their aid.

It might be imagined that the standard of education could be maintained by such a system, on the hypothesis that a State-nominated Senate would always appoint competent Examiners; but in such a case those[15] Examiners would themselves become the University, and would regulate the value of the degrees conferred by it, and the country could have no guarantee that the standard of education would continue to be maintained; for this would be to suppose, on the part of successive Governments, a purity in their appointment of Senators which no rational man expects will ever be found outside the boundaries of the kingdom of Laputa.

If the Senate of the National University were composed of State officials, they would feel themselves bound to maintain the interests of all the Colleges committed to their care, and it would be impossible to maintain the standard of Degrees at a point higher than the attainments of the weakest College in the partnership, whose defective standard would regulate that of the University Degree, just as the sailing of the slowest tub in the squadron regulates the manœuvres of the entire fleet.

If, on the other hand, the Senate of the National Irish University should be composed, after the model of Oxford and Cambridge, of the heads and representatives of the various Irish Colleges, although liberty of education might be preserved, the standard of the degrees would become degraded by the simple operation of a natural law easy to explain.

The heads of the Irish Colleges, united into a “happy family” University by the hands of a paternal Government, would either struggle with each other for supremacy, or enter into a compromise for peace sake, on some such plan as the following:—

After a few preliminary skirmishes, to try each other’s skill, in arranging a common curriculum in Morals or History, it would be found that profound and irreconcileable differences existed among the Colleges on the most elementary principles, and that it would be impossible for the heads of Trinity College, of St. Patrick’s College of Maynooth, of Queen’s College of Belfast, and of other institutions, to agree upon a common curriculum of education, or even of examination for Degrees, that would satisfy the reasonable and conscientious scruples of all parties.[16]

Under these circumstances, a sort of bargain would be made between the heads of the various Colleges, who would agree to take each other’s certificates without challenge, and confer the Degrees recommended by each independently of the others.

The University and its Senate would thus become simply a machinery for authorizing the Students of the various Colleges to add certain letters, such as M. A., or LL. B., after their names; and it would become the interest of all the Colleges in which a really good education was given, that such letters should have a formal significance only; the education itself, testified by the addition of the name of the College, having alone a real market value readily appreciated by the public. Each College of reputation would be careful to have its own name inserted after the letters signifying the University Degree, and thus would be practically created as many Universities as there are Colleges in Ireland, and a disastrous competition downwards would be the inevitable result.

The Degrees of the so-called National University would be like the bills of a weak firm—dishonoured by the public unless endorsed by the name of a solvent trader—and the letters M. A., or LL. B., would become like the praises on a bad man’s gravestone, purchaseable at so much a letter.

I believe, therefore, that I am entitled to protest against the scheme of forming a National University by fusing together the different Colleges in Ireland, on the following grounds:—

  1. Because such a scheme for a National University would prove to be a failure, on account of the want of similarity in the Colleges composing the University.
  2. Because such a scheme would, in the long run, infallibly lower the standard and degrade the character of Irish University Degrees; a result that would prove peculiarly disastrous to the educated classes in Ireland.



Having disposed of the first two schemes for satisfying the demand of the Irish Catholics for University Education, and shown one to be impolitic, and the other to be injurious, it might naturally be expected that I should now proceed to advocate the advantages of the remaining plan, which consists in a Charter and Endowment for a Roman Catholic University in Ireland, in which the Irish Catholics and their Clergy should be allowed to arrange their own programme of University Education without the interference of Irish Protestants, or of English doctrinaires; but this course I feel to be unnecessary, as it mainly concerns Roman Catholics themselves to state their wishes and explain their views respecting it.

Protestant interference in such a question is as irritating and as useless as would be the interference of a mutual friend in a quarrel between a man and his wife.

English politicians, in the matter of University Education for the Irish Catholics, have hitherto imitated the doctrine laid down by Mr. Bumble—that “the great principle of out-of-door relief is, to give the paupers exactly what they don’t want; and then they get tired of coming.”

Twenty-seven out of twenty-nine of the Irish Catholic Bishops ask for a Catholic University Charter and Endowment, and are supported in this claim by an overwhelming majority of their flocks.

The Irish Catholics asked the English Parliament for bread, and they gave them a stone: instead of a Chartered University, with a fair endowment and perfect freedom of Education, they received Queen’s Colleges, which were condemned as godless, and which they were prohibited by their Church from using.

Let the Parliament of England for once try an experiment which will meet with the approval of Irishmen of all classes, and give to Ireland a third University, in[18] which the highest and best type of Catholic education shall be developed freely. Protestantism cannot suffer by the contrast, and education must certainly benefit.

If Germans can proudly boast of their twenty-seven Universities—if Italians can point to twenty-one Universities, awaking from their slumbers at the call of liberty—if little Belgium can support her four Universities, all active, and required by the wants of her people—surely it cannot be too much for the Irish people, divided as they unhappily are by distinctions of religion and bitter recollections of ancient feuds, to ask that the Protestant University of Elizabeth, and the Secular University of Victoria, shall be supplemented by a Catholic University, possessing the confidence of Irish Catholics, and sharing with her friendly rivals, no longer jealous sisters, the glorious task of leading the youth of Ireland into the pleasant paths of Literature and Science.

The milk-white Lily is not less beautiful than the crimson Rose; let them flourish side by side in the garden of Ireland.


[1] Roman Catholics were first admitted into Trinity College by an Act passed by the Irish Parliament in 1793.

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