Ad Astra – Errant Scholar
Aristotle’s fear of any form of money earning, i.e. of all professional activities, goes perhaps even further than Plato’s … For Aristotle every form of professionalism means a loss of caste … A feudal gentleman, he insists, must never take too much interest in any occupation, art or science … There are some liberal arts, that is to say, arts which a gentleman may acquire, but always only to a certain degree … For if he takes too much interest … he will become proficient like a professional … This is Aristotle’s idea of a liberal education…
– K.R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies
The real university has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salary and receives no material dues. The real university is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location … The real university is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself.
– Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Somewhat like recollections of early education those of early years at University College Dublin are fading into sepia-tinted memories of classes and teachers, idealistic discussions and hectic chit-chat in the Main Hall and corridors of University College Dublin (UCD) at Earlsfort Terrace, especially when students and teachers burst forth enthusiastically and vocally from lecture theatres and corridors on the hour. Though I completed studies just before the start of the “Gentle Revolution” of 1968, I certainly did not find UCD an intellectually-asphyxiating “Catholic Boys Technical School” as have some other more illustrious alumni. I found the place in many ways quite liberating and illuminating. That may have been because I chose courses, history, politics, economics, which lent themselves to greater openness of enquiry – or because I just was not intellectually-critical enough myself – or have now become excessively mellow in the autumn of my life. In fact there were a number of inspirational teachers there at the time who left an indelible impression on all who had the good fortune to attend their lectures, individuals such as Desmond Williams, Fergal O’Connor, Paddy Lynch, Dudley Edwards and Denis Donoghue. They combined exuberance and charisma with vision and imagination, whetting a scholarly appetite while nurturing the development of the human spirit. They can be looked to as metaphors for the Irish renaissance in the pre-hubristic second half of the twentieth century.
I recall the helpfulness of the librarians working with Miss Power, the staff in the registrations office and their understanding of delayed payment of fees, and Paddy Keogh, Head Porter and an institution in his own lifetime.
There were two choices of university in Dublin of the 1960s, Trinity College or UCD. Trinity was the older, socially more prestigious, though financially-fraying entity, founded under Queen Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century, the repository of the famous Book of Kells and a depositary library for all English language books. For a couple of centuries, until 1793, Catholics and Dissenters were either refused entry or were reluctantly accepted as students only. Then, when its gates were finally opened, the natives got a bit uppity and established their own rival university on Stephen’s Green.
Trinity had in its favour its gorgeous and iconic academic architecture on a prime site of a few hundred acres in the historic centre of Dublin, and had acquired that patina of old age which distinguished it from the late nineteenth century architecture of upstart Earlsfort Terrace.
Though the numbers attending UCD in the 1950s were just over 3,000, it was obvious that the five-acre site was far too small; the library was full to capacity most days, the lecturers lacked their own staff rooms, there was little office space from which to manage the institution efficiently. At the time many were envious of the comparatively enormous campus that Trinity enjoyed on a prime site near the city centre. UCD then occupied the original early Georgian residence at 86 St Stephens Green, the Earlsfort Terrace construction – faux Palladian with premonitions of Albert Speer – half completed during WWI when the funds ran out, and some outlying faculties, especially the elegant College of Science on Merrion Street. The Terrace did enjoy access to the adjacent and relatively-undiscovered Iveagh Gardens which were a source of enjoyment to students between classes.1 The college authorities had attempted to acquire further land close by but failed so, as it was obvious that there was not enough space to expand, they sought an appropriately-sized parcel of land outside the city centre.
Despite its favoured location and renowned academic traditions Trinity too recognised it needed to change and integrate itself more into the new Free State, rather than continue as a distinguished hangover of empire. Its venerability meant that it recorded amongst its alumni many more historically-noteworthy intellectuals than its more recent rival, which acted as a major defence against any tampering with its statute. In addition to its illustrious past students, such as the mathematician Rowan Hamilton, George Berkeley, philosopher and scientist, the eminent divine Bishop James Ussher (who painstakingly calculated the Earth was created on 23 October 4004 BC), and writer Samuel Beckett, Trinity boasted a Nobel Prize-winning professor of Physics, Prof. Ernest Walton, who had helped split the atom in the 1930s. Statues of writer Oliver Goldsmith and the curmudgeonly father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, grace the elegant portals on College Green.
UCD could boast of James Joyce (especially when the works of that irreverent iconoclast, previously banned by the national censor, had been removed from the index and introduced into the college library) as well as a cadre of first-rate literary mentors, Denis Donoghue, Augustine (Gus) Martin, Roger McHugh, Lorna Reynolds and John Jordan, who had inspired a rising generation of young writers, poets and playwrights. The medical, engineering (Professor Timoney springs to mind) and history departments (Professor Robin Dudley Edwards) had generated a well-deserved reputation for academic excellence, comparable to the best international competition.
Both UCD and Trinity have been criticised in retrospect by historian Joseph Lee for not putting sufficient emphasis on publishing academic articles. Still, considering the modern tendency of some US academics to concentrate energies on their own publications and research rather than on teaching their students, maybe they did us undergraduates a greater service than is generally acknowledged.
Trinity in the 1960s still harboured many foreign students, especially English, some of whom had failed to make it to Oxford or Cambridge and considered Trinity a socially-acceptable alternative at the time. In the opinion of one (London) Times correspondent quoted by Donal McCartney in his compelling narrative History of UCD2, “Trinity was one of John Bull’s outposts … and a playground where wealthy English students pass time in comfortable idleness”3.
Though identified in the public consciousness as institutions representing two different cultural traditions, it is quite possible that the rivalry evident in the 1950s and 1960s was as much about good old fashioned competition as a wish to raise the higher educational standards of the populace. One area where competition between the two institutions openly flourished was on the sports fields, in the boxing ring, and rowing on the upper reaches of the River Liffey.
UCD – Founder’s Philosophy
The founder of the institution which eventually became UCD was Cardinal Henry Newman, a famous nineteenth century Oxford convert to Catholicism, who expounded his very lofty concept of a university in a series of talks, “The Idea of a University”. Newman was really more an academic than a theologian, as he is regarded in Britain. He was a leading member of the “Oxford Movement” who converted to Catholicism while teaching at that university. He had initially wished to set up a new college there with a Catholic ethos, which was lacking among the existing colleges of the time. Aware of the agitation in Ireland to set up an academic alternative to the perceived Protestant Ascendancy traditions of Trinity, and which would cater for the interests of the majority community, he came to Dublin as an alternative incubation centre for his ideal institution.
His philosophy of higher education could be encapsuled in his belief that education is a sufficient end in itself, deepening one’s understanding of what it is to be a good human, living a meaningful and ethical life.
Such is the constitution of the human mind that any kind of knowledge is its own reward. Knowledge is an object so undeniably good as to be the compensation of a great deal of trouble of attaining…
As a pre-eminent philosopher of higher education he is recognised as the primary proponent of a liberal as opposed to a professional education:
The process of training by which the intellect, instead of being formed or sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose or specific trade or profession, or study of science, or discipline for its own sake, for the perception of its own … highest culture is called liberal education. And to set forth the right standard … this I perceive to be the business of a University.
He attacked the concept of utility as an ideal criterion of a university education. He trenchantly criticised, in particular, the utilitarian philosophy of the Scottish thinker John Locke and his followers who had earlier attacked the value of a liberal, especially a classical, Oxford education. Newman strongly defended the value of a liberal education:
“Gentlemen, I will show you how a liberal education is truly and fully useful, though it be not a professional education”.
Newman was thus the prime promoter of the role of the intellect as a perfect, admirable, noble good. Yet, as McCartney (op cit) argues, he also recognised the need for teaching professional subjects at the new Dublin university: he established schools of medicine, law, engineering, the useful arts, mining and agriculture4.
In 1929 Newman’s ideals for a university were the subject of a bitter dispute, predating modern concern about too much insistence on the role of education as a vector for the promotion of economic growth. This critique was penned by a Jesuit priest in the college education department who attacked Newman for attempting to impose on post-Famine Ireland a gentleman’s liberal education imported from decadent Oxford
A Modern College on a Modern Campus
The college experienced a rather convoluted transformation from its 1854 origin with some 20 initial pupils to its present form as an effectively non-denominational university with over 20,000 students. Many of the leaders of the 1916 Rebellion, dreamers and poets, had studied there and it was the institution of choice for the children of the politicians, professionals, central and local administrators and ancillary agencies of the newly independent state – so much so that many referred to it as the National University.
The President when I entered was Dr Michael Tierney, reputed to be a feisty old dinosaur – not that I ever conversed with him. When elected in 1947 he was considered something of an innovator, but became increasingly conservative over time. Yet he seems to have combined both a visceral conservatism with a cerebral progressiveness, and had a cannily-perspicacious view of his responsibilities and role in promoting third-level education for a far wider spectrum of the community at large. He reputedly nursed a strong disregard for Trinity, though this may have been driven by a sense of rivalry towards a competitor institution. His one talismanic initiative and enduring legacy to the college was the energy and tenacity he expended in aggregating a number of large contiguous farms and houses in the suburban area around Belfield House, south of Donnybrook, which he envisaged as an American-style campus. Anyone who has managed to extract funding from a parsimonious financial authority or government in times of stiff financial stringency will salute his powers of persuasion as well as his exemplary tenacity of purpose.
Adapting to the Needs of a Changing Society
At about the same time the authorities of both colleges realised their responsibility to contribute to the quality of public administration and business management, both for the public and private sector. Though Trinity remained popular with the more traditional Church of Ireland section of the community in the Republic and North of Ireland, it was gradually and successfully evolving from its original status as an Anglican divinity college, to becoming a liberal, independent-minded university. Despite its former West Briton image, the management had been prescient and made serious efforts to integrate it into the life of the newly independent state. It took the initiative in organising evening courses in commerce and public administration for civil servants – as described in Chapter 5. This was a smart move, since at that time a practising Catholic was normally expected to seek a special episcopal dispensation to attend Trinity from the redoubtable Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, and the argument that the college was providing specialist courses not available elsewhere was impossible to gainsay.
Though not obvious at the time, Irish society, as was also the case with our British neighbours, was undergoing a deep seismic change at the end of the 1950s. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan spoke of the winds of change which were blowing throughout Africa: those wafting across the Emerald Isle may have been gentle in comparison but they too heralded profound longer-term changes in attitude, especially upon handing over of the position of Taoiseach by the ascetic de Valera to the more pragmatic Lemass in 1959.
By the early 1960s UCD had some 7,000 students in total, most of whom were located at the Earlsfort Terrace building. The main hall and adjoining corridors which gave onto lecture theatres became thronged in the intervals between the end of class on the hour, and the start of next. Students and teachers burst forth from lecture rooms into the constraining passageways to the seething main hall and a frenzy of banter. Only the high ceilings seemed to prevent asphyxiation. For ten minutes after the hour it became a cauldron of chatter, the lofty hubbub of aspiring cognoscenti, oratorical gyrations of poseurs, political intrigue by embryonic politicos, furtive attempts to flirt with the opposite gender, the scrounging of loans guaranteed to be reimbursed within an improbably short deadline. Insights into football, horses, opposite-gender psychology were exchanged, the relative quality of the pints in O’Dwyer’s and Hartigan’s pondered, confidential whispers exchanged as to forthcoming parties. All combined to create a special atmosphere which pervaded the cramped space, and which most alumni fondly recall. The intermingling of students from so many faculties created a more eclectic ambience than the disciplinary apartheid forced by the specialist accommodation on a modern campus, surely essential to the hallowed ideal of a universitas of thinking and learning. Years later when I visited the campus at Belfield and observed the separate buildings occupied by the different faculties, I recalled that the Terrace was like the old Berlaymont in the early days of the European Commission when a majority of the services were huddled under one roof and we intermingled with and got to know colleagues from all the different Directorates General.
I enrolled in first year majoring in history and economics. Latin was then a compulsory minor subject for those who wanted to follow the honours stream in second year. (Until a few years previously Greek had also been a subject requisite for entry.) Those not very footsure of their linguistic ability were offered an alternative lower-level course which involved studying an inordinate amount of Roman history; instead of attempting to translate a couple of short paragraphs of Livy or Virgil they had to plough through the equivalent of Gibbon’s interminable Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
First year economics was something special: over 500 students packed into a double lecture theatre to listen to the mellifluous tones of the patrician Professor James Meenan as he delivered his emollient, early morning reflections and recollections of Irish economic development, or lack thereof. He had a certain wry sense of humour, especially when he reminded students that the common laws of economics did not apply to the agricultural sector: the land and its cultivation were endowed with a special approbation from on high by the Almighty when he created the world – and policy-makers and politicians overlook this at their peril. This was before he eventually published his historic tome on Irish economic development.5 Though the gestation was lengthy, being published well after I had departed, it was worth the wait, a most magnificent and authoritative work of political economy, with an encyclopaedic review of background economic history. It broke new ground by including a vast arsenal of economic statistics, all presented in a most elegant style as befitted a disciple of the renowned author and orator Professor George O’Brien – were his ghost ever to excuse Meenan for descending to the level of citing quantitative data in a work of political economy.
Microeconomics was taught by more junior lecturers later in the day. The reason that Meenan’s morning classes were so crowded is that they were shared by first year students of economics proper, in addition to commerce and sociology, the latter mainly of the fair gender.
The numbers following economics dropped off significantly in second year due to failures at first year exams and, more significantly, to the fact that a nodding acquaintance with elementary calculus was required from second year onwards, especially if one were to follow the honours course. There was something about calculus which seemed to spook some more thespian minds, and many opted to study law as a main course in second year instead of economics. Soon after the start of second year you knew which of your colleagues had opted for law when they discarded hacking jackets and jeans to appear in suits, ties and sporting polished shoes. The gentility of the King’s Inns and the Law Library obviously beckoned.
I would have preferred to have taken history as a major in my second year but the economics faculty was not so rigorous in monitoring attendance as the much smaller history department, where one had to submit a weekly tutorial and absence from class was immediately noted. (The history department was not structured to foster student peripateia: they were unconvinced by arguments in favour of a few weeks vagabondage as a ski-bum on distant hillsides in the middle of winter term.) Obeisance was paid to developing the body as well as the mind in some faculties; Meenan was President of the UCD Rowing Club and rumour had it that he looked benevolently on any of his students who spent afternoons training on the Liffey to do battle with our competitors from College Green. If one wanted to frequent the snowy slopes in February history was not to be selected. So the more pragmatic major of political economy, complemented by the more aesthetically acceptable minors of politics and statistics, became my choice from second year onwards.
Second year opened new perspectives as we had more interesting if more specialised lecturers. One was Professor Patrick Lynch, Ireland’s early proponent of Keynesian economics, who had returned from Cambridge at a time when the generally accepted economic policy was for the Department of Finance to balance the fiscal ledgers and avoid any overt interference with the natural progress of the economy. The conventional wisdom was to leave the invisible hand of the economy to guide its own self-regulating trajectory towards maximum employment and high growth if it were not interfered with by government. Paddy Lynch, as he was universally and familiarly known, was an ex-official of the Department of Finance, later Department of the Taoiseach, Chairman of Aer Lingus,6 Chairman of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and a member of numerous organisations in the pedagogic and development world. He was, then, also chairing an OECD group which in 1965 produced the path-breaking report Investment in Education, commissioned by then Education Minister Patrick Hillery, which was to have long-term ramifications for Irish economic development. Though the report was usually attributed to Lynch as its editor, he reminded us that he was ably assisted by a team from OECD, including a lecturer in Trinity, one Martin O’Donoghue, later a TD and minister in a FF government, who executed much of the heavy statistical lifting.7 The following year Lynch was to produce another landmark analysis looking at the wider implication of education and science policy with the publication of Science and Irish Economic Development. He had a unique ability to integrate economic analysis within the wider perspectives of a scientifically and technically advancing society, as exemplified by his paper “Whither Science Policy?”. Along with a number of younger academics, especially Basil Chubb, Professor of Political Science at Trinity, he was to make a considerable contribution to intellectual discourse and national policy analysis.
Included on the curriculum was microeconomics. The recommended text was that of Louden Ryan, Professor of Economics at Trinity, which was considered as much a standard text at that time as Samuelson’s in macroeconomics.
Having reluctantly dropped history at the end of first year I greatly missed the imaginative and invigorating discourses of charismatic Professor Dudley Edwards with his magnificently unkempt grey mane. He became quite an institution in UCD at the time, held in awe and admired by the student body. He was ably complemented by the brilliant Desmond Williams. Williams would arrive at lectures, most of the time a good quarter of an hour late, stroll up to the lectern with a scrap of paper on which he had scribbled a few notes, not that he ever seemed to need an aide memoire, and the inevitable packet of fags which he proceeded to chain-smoke as he spoke. He would proceed to deliver the most perfectly-structured lecture which could have been typed up and ready for publication without the need for any editorial changes.
Two personalities from the politics departments left a lasting impression: one, curiously, was a highly independent-minded Dominican priest of luminous intellect and outstanding humanity, Fr Fergal O’Connor, the other was John Whyte. Fergal O’Connor was highly inspirational and his Socratic mode of teaching (though he reflected the honesty and non-conformity of the master he absolutely avoided his intellectual arrogance, desire to dominate and too frequent resort to irony), constantly stimulating critical dialogue with his pupils, so popular that a considerable number of students who were not enrolled for his course attended his lectures. Provocative and thought-provoking as they were, it was a wonder that he managed to survive the conservative ethos then dominant in the ethics and politics department. As far as I can recall it was Fergal O’Connor who first introduced me to the intellectual delights of Karl Popper, especially his treatise on the Open Society and its Enemies.
John Whyte’s speciality was the relationship between church and state in modern Ireland, though his course may not have been so labelled. We learned later that when it came to the attention of the clerical nomenklatura that he was drafting a definitive exegesis on the same subject he was apparently warned off, with the result that he resigned from UCD, departed to Queen’s in Belfast for a few years, only to return a couple of years later with enhanced stature, and a well-received tome to his name.
Student Social Life
With my peripatetic lifestyle, also disappearing on occasions to check out potential hotels in promising new overseas tourist locations, I was not in a position to participate seriously in student societies, though like my other colleagues I attended the many dances organised by students in the various faculties, such as the weekly “Ags” or “Yerrawaddies” organised by the agricultural and engineering students, respectively. These social engagements were highly remunerative for the student clubs which organised them, entrance costing three shillings and sixpence, if I recall correctly. The commercial logic was based on the hankering of young and impecunious male students to meet young ladies, and of unattached Dublin damsels to meet up with students. There was a perceived honorific and potential about the title student, no matter how impoverished they may have been. But the status was often tarnished by some parsimonious gallants who reputedly made rendezvous with the objects of their affections inside the dance hall, thus avoiding the distraction of a visit a deux to the box-office.
Students in the different faculties seemed to have had their own ethos. Some students of the black arts of economics could appear to take themselves too seriously at times, perhaps as a result of analysing and reading about millions, if not billions. The history crowd, of which my older brother Jim and his fiancé Mary O’Sullivan were part, and which included such luminaries as Liam Hourican, Pat Cleary (later Mrs Liam Hourican), Patrick Cosgrove and Ruth Dudley Edwards, daughter of the eponymous professor, similarly took themselves seriously, though in a more cerebral, metaphysical manner, as befitted those untainted by contemplation of filthy lucre. They could be frightfully civilised, maybe because les esprits were leavened by the equal presence of young, refined ladies. In contrast, some agricultural science students evoked images more of arcadia than science: one such scholar, temporarily insolvent, solved the challenge of putting food on the table for guests by hopping over the fence of St Stephen’s Green late one evening to appropriate a couple of unfortunate ducks. That Saturday evening he invited some fellow cash-strapped cognoscenti for a seven course AgSci dinner – a portion of duck, a la Parc Saint Etienne presumably, and a six-pack, the latter furnished by the guests. The science crowd was a most eclectic grouping. Many of the friends who tolerated my company in undergraduate days were kindred spirits from the science faculty, Fred Reid, Peadar Braiden, Jerome O’Carroll, Ken Douglas, Jim Leech, Mat O’Donoghue; we regularly met at the Old Stand to discuss the meaning of life, the future of the universe and other matters of high consideration, such as the general shortage of women and the price of the pint.
The revered Literary and Historical Society, the L&H, seemed to have been frequented mainly by history, law, philosophy and political science students, budding senior counsels and politicians, a scattering of flamboyant butterflies, socially-aspiring Trots – and a chronic awkward squad. It convened in the Physics Theatre on a Saturday evening, conveniently so as its deliberations might be reported in the Sunday Independent next morning. And frequently their musings and baiting of the bourgeoisie made it to the front page. This only encouraged more intensive vapourisings and fulminations, by what Myles na Gopaleen referred to as “the blatherers in the L&H”. Yet the same Myles was himself an adept performer at the same forum in his day, even if he had failed to be elected Auditor. It had a deserved reputation for the quality of debate: in 1959 and 1964 the discourses of Anthony Clare and Patrick Cosgrave won it the coveted Observer Mace award. Anthony Clare was later to become an acclaimed psychiatrist, broadcaster and writer. His highly popular series In the Psychiatrist’s Chair was broadcast on BBC4 from 1982 to 2001. He emotionally engaged members of the British establishment, softening many a stiff British upper lip in the process. He proclaimed Freud a sham, describing psychoanalysis as “the most stupendous confidence trick of the century” and its proponent as “a religious prophet speaking in a secular language”.
It probably was the growing popularity of Gay Byrne’s Saturday evening Late Late Show8 on the newly-established RTÉ which eventually shifted the spotlight from the L&H, and its ruminations were no longer treated as seriously since questions of topical interest to society could now be followed in the tranquillity of one’s own living room. Yet the L&H boasted a long and eminent pedigree in college history as a focus of creative, even radical and eristic, thinking and debate, as well as providing a unique forum for criticising the management of the college. Many of its attendees went on to follow successful careers in politics, the bar and journalism. It also included a number of luminaries of mildly Wildean excess who excelled at oratorical gyrations. The Society had a history of provoking conflict with the authorities, especially when such topics as the inevitability of Marxism or the death of religion were chosen as topics for debate. On a number of occasions the more conservative authorities tried to stifle debate or change the theme selected for discussion. This would lead to lengthy disciplinary proceedings, made the more tantalising for the authorities when the Auditor of the Society was a sharp and litigious post-graduate legal student. (In my time a favourite target for debate and criticism was the conservative and autocratic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid, criticism of whom could be relied upon to guarantee a few paragraphs of shock-horror publicity in one of the more conservative Sunday morning newspapers.)
One institution I recall with affection: Sunday evening films at“86” St Stephen’s Green (Newman House), admission one shilling and sixpence (1/6d).9 Not only did this appeal to the impoverished students on a limited budget, costing much less than the outside competition, the main attraction was the ongoing repartee, heckling and snappy quips from the more imaginative and articulate members of the audience. I suspect that some of the more original wiseacres had actually seen the films a number of times previously such was the wit, timeliness and sagacity of their interjections.
UCD – Not Uniformly Conformist
As noted, a number of contemporaries at UCD have penned their recollections and it is interesting how some have criticised the dull conformity they experienced. It is possible that this was characteristic, not of the institution as a whole, but of certain faculties, both students and staff. It is possible that in some of the liberal arts faculties or law, a more conservative ethos reigned, but in economics and politics there was a greater degree of creative thinking, despite the efforts of the Church authorities to ensure an intellectual lock on the philosophy department. Although Professor of Economics James Meenan, director of a number of companies and Chairman of the Royal Dublin Society, did not come across as the intellectual offspring of a tricotuese he had, apparently, always been open-minded, instinctively liberal, even radical for the times. In his history of UCD, McCartney (op cit) shows how perceptive of developments Meenan had actually been.
Professor Paddy Lynch returned from postgraduate studies at Cambridge as one of the first Keynesians in Ireland. Although we were not all aware of it he had already started to promote his ideas in the budget of 1950, making a distinction for the first time between current and capital expenditure. In this endeavour he was supported by Louden Ryan in Trinity, and Roy Geary, the internationally-respected director of the then Economic Research Institute. He remained a man of high principle and strict conscience all his life, notwithstanding his role in senior establishment positions. Fergal O’Connor may have been a Dominican priest, not historically the most iconoclastic of the Church’s orders, but his independence of thought and forceful idealism greatly influenced his students. Maybe because he was an order priest and not a member of the Archbishop’s secular clergy, he could afford to display a greater degree of independence of expression not available to the emollient and more conformist James Kavanagh. In the History Faculty both Desmond Williams, also a Cambridge alumnus, and Dudley Edwards were patently open-minded thinkers, as was the eclectic and highly cultivated agricultural economist Louis Smith in Economics. Denis Donoghue was as popular with his English Lit. students as Dudley Edwards was in the history department.
In my final BA year we were lectured in the recent history of economic planning by a young and motivated political economist, Garret FitzGerald, a lawyer who was working as a statistician and planner of operations with Aer Lingus. He was to go on to become a Senator and, later, Taoiseach, elected Chancellor of the National University of Ireland in 1998, and remains a prolific writer and pundit of considerable moral authority. It was he who confronted the daunting figure of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and convinced her to conclude the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, one of the early foundation stones of the present Irish-British reconciliation.
Lady students laboured under more stringent conditions. For example, they were not allowed wear trousers, and especially not jeans, on college premises. A determined regiment of implacable justiciars, Christina Murphy and Olivia O’Leary in the vanguard, decided to invade the halls of the Terrace in such numbers one morning that the Dean of Ladies’ Studies was overwhelmed and their fait accompli accepted.
We took it for granted that college professors and lecturers would occasionally appear in the spotlight of media attention. They, with colleagues from other universities and a new breed of perspicacious and original thinkers in the civil service and state-sponsored bodies, especially TK Whitaker, Secretary of the Department of Finance, were frequently cited when they expressed views as to the best policy responses to pressing national challenges, especially the scourge of unemployment and emigration. Many wrote articles for newspapers or learned journals, especially publications of the ESRI and the IPA’s Administration, delivered lectures on Radio Éireann, contributed to government-sponsored reports and investigations and to public colloquia. In retrospect, it was the combined thrust of all these reflections which helped ease the implacable and still incomplete transition of the 26-county state from a calcified, rural outpost of a mighty colonial power to something approaching a self-confident, sustainable, small-country economy which is carving out its own unique narrative along the lines of Denmark, Sweden or Switzerland.
At the highest policy-making level, especially in the Departments of Finance, and in Industry and Commerce, the conventional wisdom as to the conduct of economic affairs, during the earliest years of the state, was still highly influenced by the teachings of Alfred Marshall: an economy was considered to comprise a mass of rational consumers willing to spend their income in the best way to maximise satisfaction; and industry was composed of a large number of competing firms desirous of making a small, normal level of profit. In Marshall’s model, industry is not normally distorted by the constraints of monopoly or the demands of technological change. The role of the state was merely to ensure observance of the law by consumers and producers, and balance the fiscal books; the market mechanism can be depended on to ensure the provision of jobs and growth. If there is unemployment that is because workers and unions were demanding too high wages; lower these somewhat and fuller employment will be restored. Since in the long run supply was considered to create its own level of demand, and overall demand never falls short of an economy’s potential, governments did not need to step in to stimulate employment creation.
Unfortunately, this comfortable doctrine was rudely disproved by reality; it was to be intellectually undermined by the highly original and incisive analysis of John Maynard Keynes. He argued that financial markets are basically volatile and so is the level of investment. He proposed that there is a difference between the way a government may spend its income and how a family does. In times of low effective demand which leaves many workers unemployed, the state can run a deficit, letting the financial stimulus kick-start greater economic activity; this will even have a multiplier effect on the wider economy. On the contrary, in times of excessive demand and inflation the state should run a surplus to cool things down. It was Paddy Lynch who, on return from postgraduate studies at Cambridge, promoted the new theories and encouraged escape from stagnation. (In this context it is interesting to recall Keynes’s celebrated dictum which he often cited, that ideas are in the longer term much more powerful than practical men, who consider themselves free from intellectual influences, realise.) Fortunately the new man in Finance, TK Whitaker, had a brilliant, open mind and embraced broader perspectives and strategic thinking. He had already published his modest but, in the context, revolutionary Programme for Economic Development, which advocated the re-organisation and efficient use of government resources to promote economic development and export promotion, thus stimulating demand, growth and employment. While Whitaker was decisively opposed to current deficits he would accept capital debts if the return would more than service the debts. Still, as the state’s most senior economic official he had to be ever-vigilant that politicians did not succumb to the temptation of allowing capital deficits morph into current deficits.
The Programme was to prove a great success, not just economically but psychologically when the initial modest growth objectives were not just attained but surpassed. Setting up the psychological infrastructure was essential in releasing much pent-up energy and drive among a host of actors within the public and private sectors, and academia. These thinkers, policy-makers and men and women of action helped with devising an appropriate national strategy which had been lacking but which would still take many more years to hone. A new generation of students who had been educated at UCD, Trinity, Cork and Galway, and were likewise influenced by the new thinking, no longer emigrated but took up employment in the civil service, state-sponsored bodies, and private industry, helping to strengthen the quality of management and policy-making. With the setting up of the first MBA program, UCD was to further cement its reputation as a springboard for the renaissance of the Irish economy.
The external environment was also turning favourable: the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement of 1965 helped condition Irish industry to face the chill winds of foreign competition in preparation for the 1973 entry into the EEC. The decision to complete the Internal Market by 1992 and the associated Cohesion Fund provided vital structural assistance to the Irish economy, especially human resource development, helped prepare the infrastructure for investment in high value-added industry and services, and reverse the brain drain. It was a long, tortuous and demanding road which achieved considerable success by the end of the millennium – only for an irrational hubris based on easy credit and property speculation to contaminate the formula. But the Irish universities and technological institutes did play the crucial role in helping build-up the intellectual and social infrastructure, key to the emerging knowledge-based society.
UCD in the New Millennium
The college goes on to play an increasingly important role in Irish society, promoting higher education as an end in itself as Newman proposed, and as a wellspring of cultural, scientific, economic and social advance, actively contributing to the emergence of a knowledge-based economy. The 1960s building site at Belfield has begun to acquire the patina of a dignified and elegant centre of learning with over 20,000 students populating its spacious campus.
Some 150 years after it was founded it is developing into a leading European research-based institution, generating knowledge as well as diffusing the holistic education promoted by its founder. The academic structures have been completely restructured recently under President Hugh Brady: the previous structure of 90 disciplines has been regrouped into five colleges comprising 35 different schools. It reaches out from its home base to cooperate with academia all over the world10.
1 These delightful gardens are still open to the public but few seem aware of them and they are but rarely visited.
2 Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1999
3 It was also wryly referred to in some circles as a temporary place or state of repose for young Alexandra College ladies in the period between leaving school and finding a socially-acceptable husband.
4 Newman’s ideal of a liberal, otherworldly education for cerebral gentlemen differs substantially from that advocated earlier that century by Humboldt in Germany who emphasised the role of the university in the creation of new knowledge as well as its diffusion, unifying teaching and research. This is the model which has been adopted by many US colleges, especially by such powerhouses of technology as MIT and Caltech. One may surmise that for Newman the ultimate scholastic Hades would be the pursuit of monetary economics at the Chicago Business School and the ethics of “greed is good”.
5 An apocryphal tale circulated at the time of a student who asked another why he did not bother to take notes, the latter replied that his father had also taken political economy and had taken careful notes.
6 Former Aer Lingus Secretary Niall Weldon tells how Lynch encouraged him to write his highly engaging history of the company, Pioneers in Flight: Aer Lingus and the Story of Aviation in Ireland, The Liffey Press, Dublin, 2002.
7 Chapter 15 on Education and Economic Progress shows clear signs of the mind of the study’s director and is probably as profound a description of education’s role in professional life as Newman’s on the metaphysical.
8 Byrne also hosted a popular morning radio entertainment/discussion programme. By raising sensitive topics, such as the fission between outward religiosity and inner spirituality and the abuse of women, normally hidden behind the discreet tapestry of Irish life, he probably played a more influential role than any academic or writer in opening up Irish culture and values to scrutiny. For many years an informal conscience of the nation, he was what some Japanese would consider a Living National Treasure.
9 Modern students little appreciate the extreme penury of many students in 1960s Ireland: there were occasions when you just had no idea where your next pint was coming from.
10 I am also pleased to note the college actively promotes the European Credit Transfer Scheme (ECTS), developed by one of my Commission colleagues, Peter van der Hijden, as an integral tool for successful international student and academic exchange.