UCC was established in 1845 as one of three Queen’s Colleges – at Cork, Galway and Belfast. These new colleges were established in the reign of Queen Victoria, and named after her.
Queen’s College, Cork (QCC) was established to provide access to higher education in the Irish province of Munster. Cork was chosen for the new college due to its place at the centre of transatlantic trade at the time and the presence of existing educational initiatives such as the Royal Cork Institution and a number of private medical schools.
The site chosen for the new college was dramatic and picturesque, on the edge of a limestone bluff overlooking the River Lee. It is associated with the educational activities of a local early Christian saint, Finbarr. It is believed that his monastery and school stood nearby, and his legend inspired UCC’s motto: ‘Where Finbarr Taught, let Munster Learn.’
On 7 November 1849, QCC opened its doors to a small group of students (only 115 students in that first session, 1849-1850) after a glittering inaugural ceremony in the Aula Maxima (Great Hall), which is still the symbolic and ceremonial heart of the University.
The limestone buildings of the Main Quadrangle (as it is now known) are built in a style inspired by the great universities of the Middle Ages, and were designed by the gifted architectural partnership of Thomas Deane and Benjamin Woodward. The iconic image of UCC, it is set in landscaped gardens and surrounds the green lawn known to all as the Quad.
From 1850, QCC was part of the Queen’s University of Ireland and, from the 1880s, of the Royal University of Ireland. QCC grew during that that time, adding land and buildings, increasing student numbers and developing deep links throughout Munster and into the world beyond. By the beginning the twentieth century however, it was clear that higher education in Ireland required a new arrangement to permit the next stages of development. That change came in 1908 through the National University of Ireland (NUI), of which the former QCC, now University College Cork (UCC) is a founding member.
With the NUI came conferring ceremonies held in UCC for the first time (previously they were all held in Dublin). These are days of ceremony and celebration, connecting our graduates and their families to the great tradition of European scholarship that goes back a thousand years.
Student superstition has it that to cross the Quad before graduation, or even to set foot on the grass, is to risk bad luck and failure in exams. On conferring days, graduates gather to cross the Quad together, and get their photograph taken there.
Since 1908, UCC has grown – from 115 students to over 20,000, from one building to dozens, from less than 20 staff to more than 1,600 today. Since 1997, we have become a university in our own right within the NUI, but we retain the UCC name as part of our heritage of learning since 1845.