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28 May 2024  

Taoiseach plants tree in Merrion Square to mark NUI Centenary


The Taoiseach at Merrion SquareThe Taoiseach Mr Brian Cowen TD today planted a tree in Merrion Square to mark the centenary of the National University of Ireland.Speaking at the ceremony, NUI Chancellor Dr Garret Fitzgerald said ‘We are greatly honoured that the Taoiseach has come to plant a tree here today in Merrion Square to celebrate the centenary of the National University of Ireland.’The Chancellor commented that ‘a tree seemed an appropriate symbol for the university in its centennial year. Starting from small beginnings, a tree spreads out, its branches strengthening and stretching towards the sun. So too the National University of Ireland started in a small way, responding to the aspirations of an incipient nation for a higher education system with which its people could identify. At the beginning there were some 1,000 students spread across four colleges. In 1910 the first year in which NUI degrees were awarded, around 300 students were conferred. In 2007, almost one hundred years later, over 27,000 NUI qualifications – and here I am including degrees, diploma and certificates - were awarded by the constituent universities and in the recognised colleges. Quite a few qualifications were awarded overseas.’

Tree Planting at Merrion Square‘The University started as one institution with four colleges. Three were constituent colleges. The fourth at Maynooth was a Recognised College. All of these small branches have grown in size and standing so that today, in addition to the original university, we have four self-governing constituent universities, with a shared history and traditions. In addition, there are five NUI recognised colleges. Quite a success story indeed and worthy of celebration.’Referring to previous NUI Chancellors, Dr Fitzgerald said ‘Since its foundation, NUI has been an important institution in national life. My distinguished predecessors as Chancellors has each been a major figure. Archbishop William Walsh (or Welsh according to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin) was a leading figure in the nationalist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Eamon de Valera was a giant in the twentieth-century history of Ireland and in the development of its democratic institutions. T K Whitaker, who I am delighted is able to be with us here today, was a public servant whose record is unsurpassed. He has contributed greatly in many areas of Irish life, social and cultural as well as economic. NUI has been indeed greatly fortunate to have had such leaders.’Noting the contribution of NUI, Dr Fitzgerald commented ‘NUI has also been highly influential through its graduates. They have gone on and continue to go on to fill the professions, the judiciary, the public service, the arts, business, industry and in fact most areas of national life where graduates are to be found. The Taoiseach may – or may not know that twelve of the members of his cabinet are graduates of NUI universities. (I was half way through my second term as Taoiseach before I discovered that as many as four of my ministers were former students of mine at UCD!)Looking to the future, the Chancellor said ‘As well as looking back we also look forward and celebrate the current generation of students, now numbering over 65,000, who will also go on to add to the standing and distinction of this great university.’. Earlier in the day, the Chancellor also planted a centennial tree in the grounds of NUI.