Dr. Des Fitzgerald, President UL, Mary Harney, Chancellor UL and Dr. Ed Walsh, UL Founding President, at the tree planting ceremony Picture: Alan Place
Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Former education minister Mary O’Rourke and founding UL president Ed Walsh have been hailed for their roles in the University of Limerick’s establishment.

A commemorative tree planting ceremony has taken place to mark the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the University of Limerick Act 1989.

The ceremony was attended by UL President Dr Fitzgerald and Chancellor Mary Harney along with special guests Ed Walsh and Mary O’Rourke.

It took place in the courtyard of the main building after a meeting of the governing authority, with Dr Fitzgerald outlining that it was intended to “mark this milestone in the history of UL and celebrate those who played a part in the passage of this legislation and the development of the University”.

“Today we are here to mark a very special milestone in the history of the University of Limerick, because it is 30 years almost to the day since the University of Limerick act was enacted – and some of the key players in securing that remarkable achievement are here with us today,” he said.

Chancellor Mary Harney said it was “a great pleasure to be here. This is a fantastic University and I am very honoured to be its chancellor – 15,000 students, 100,000 graduates, 1,500 staff, the highest percentage of women professors of any university in Ireland at 32% and earlier today we acknowledged that eight schools in UL have received the Athena Swan award for their role in diversity and promoting women. These are all achievements that we can be very proud of.

“What gives me great pleasure is the fact that in this place, we cultivate and development the minds of our young people, we stretch the boundaries of knowledge in both what we teach and the research we do. And we have been the Sunday Times University of the Year on more than one occasion, including the most recent year.

“This University did not come about by accident. I am particularly pleased that my former ministerial colleague Mary O’Rourke is here with us, because she played a big part in the enactment of the Universities Act in 1989. But I think it would be very remiss of me not to acknowledge in particular, the role that Ed Walsh played in making this place a reality. He was a thorn in the side of both officialdom and the political class.

“He apparently drove to Dublin twice in one day to meet ministers – twice in one day before the roads were as good as they are today.

“What we see today is the realisation of his vision and his dream, and to make things happen sometimes only requires one person with a vision and a determination and Ed Walsh was that person. I think we owe him a great deal of gratitude,” she added.

Ed Walsh, who took up his position on January 1, 1970, paid tribute to Mary O’Rourke who “took the report that Limerick should establish a University and DCU too, and with great skill, it moved from a report to action and that is a very difficult thing to do. Mary, thank you, you have done remarkable work”.

In a witty speech, Mary O’Rourke spoke of her own role in the passing of legislation that saw Limerick attain University status.

She said: “I am very happy to be here. It is a very important occasion and I am really pleased to be here, because 30 years ago, on the first of June, I brought in the Education Act, which set up UL here in Limerick and DCU in Dublin. It was a big job.

“Why should education stay still? It shouldn’t ever go quiet and stay still. The Department were caustic yes, as would befit a department who had to face into finance and all those other things, but finally it was decided there would be a university, and so there was.

“It was the first university since 1592, the first since the Irish Free State, so that was a marvellous thing to put on your CV – it was a wonderful thing to do. And so it was, on the eve of a general election, I brought in the legislation. We stuck to our guns and so it became a University.

“Ed Walsh would not rest, he tried every trick in the book and it happened. I hail again 30 years of wonderful endeavour of the University of Limerick – UL – and long may it succeed and exceed and long may all of its wonderful young men and women come through this University,” she added.