seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Magee College Opens in Derry, County Londonderry

magee-college-1870Magee College opens on October 10, 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and theological college in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Since 1953, it has had no religious affiliation and provides a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate academic degree programmes in disciplines ranging from business, law, social work, creative arts & technologies, cinematic arts, design, computer science and computer games to psychology and nursing.

The Magee Campus gains its name from Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who, in 1845, bequeathed £20,000 to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to found a college for theology and the arts. It opens in 1865 primarily as a theological college, but accepts students from all denominations to study a variety of subjects. It is a college of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 and later becomes associated with Trinity College, Dublin when the Royal University is dissolved in 1909 and replaced by the National University of Ireland.

During World War II, the college is taken over by the Admiralty for Royal NavyRoyal Navy operational use, becoming with Ebrington Barracks (HMS Ferret), a major facility in the Battle of the Atlantic. A 2013 BBC report describes a secret major control bunker, later buried beneath the lawns of the college. From 1941 this bunker, part of Base One Europe, together with similar bunkers in Derby House, Liverpool and Whitehall is used to control one million Allied personnel and fight the Nazi U-boat threat.

In 1953, Magee Theological College separates from the remainder of the college, eventually moving to Belfast in a 1978 merger that forms Union Theological College. Also in 1953, Magee College breaks its ties with Dublin and becomes Magee University College. It is hoped by groups led by the University for Derry Committee that this university college would become Northern Ireland’s second university after Queen’s University Belfast. However, in the 1960s, following the recommendations in The Lockwood Report by Sir John Lockwood, Master of Birkbeck College, London and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, the Parliament of Northern Ireland makes a controversial decision to pass it over in favour of a new university in Coleraine. Instead it is incorporated into the two-campus New University of Ulster in 1969. The next fourteen years see the college halve in size, while development focuses on the main Coleraine campus.

In 1984, the New University merges with the Ulster Polytechnic, and Magee becomes the early focus of development of a new four-campus university, the University of Ulster. Student and faculty numbers recover and grow rapidly over the next ten to fifteen years, accompanied by numerous construction projects. Magee grows from just 273 students in 1984 to over 4,000 undergraduates in 2012. In 2012, the University continues to lobby the Northern Ireland Executive for an additional 1,000 full-time undergraduate places, leading to 6,000 students at Magee in 2017.

On September 14, 2013 Magee hosts, for the first time on the island of Ireland, the 23rd International Loebner Prize Contest in Artificial Intelligence based on the Turing test proposed by the renowned British computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. Turing also works on cracking the Enigma machine code at Bletchley Park which is instrumental in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In October 2014 the University of Ulster is rebranded as Ulster University.

(Pictured: Magee College, c. 1870)


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Brian Keenan Released by Islamic Jihad

brian-keenanBrian Keenan, Northern Irish writer, is released by the Islamic Jihad Organization on August 24, 1990 after having spent 52 months as a hostage in Beirut, Lebanon. His works include the book An Evil Cradling, an account of the four and a half years he spends as a hostage.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time included Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s he returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad Organization. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by hand and foot when he is taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both Irish and British passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap they also provide support to his two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release. He is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since his release 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city.

Brian Keenan now lives in Dublin.


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Opening of Assembly’s College, Belfast

assemblys-college-belfastAssembly’s College, Belfast, opens for the training of Presbyterian clergy on December 5, 1853.

The Renaissance Revival style building with its grand Doric porch and Baroque attic is designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, the architect of the main building at Queen’s University Belfast and built with Scrabo stone at a cost of £5,000. Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné of Geneva participates in the opening ceremony alongside Henry Cooke, President of the Faculty. The five other professors in the new college are John Edgar, Robert Wilson, William Dool Killen, James G. Murphy and William Gibson.

There is a large influx of students in the wake of the 1859 Ulster revival and the south wing with its dining hall and student accommodations is added in 1869. Princeton Theological Seminary has an important influence in the shaping of the ethos of the College during this period as the Reverend Roberts Watts, who is appointed Professor of Systematic Theology in 1866, hopes to make “Belfast another Princeton.” The north wing with its wood-panelled chapel is designed by John Lanyon, son of original architect, and completed in 1881. The first degrees under the Royal Charter are conferred in 1883. However, the death of Watts in 1895 marks the beginning of the end of the Princetonian influence. A partial union takes place between the faculties in Belfast and Magee in 1922.

The newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland meets in Assembly’s College from 1921 until 1932 while Stormont is being built with the House of Commons meeting in the Gamble Library and the Senate in the College chapel. During this period the College conducts classes in a house and provides library resources in a house on University Square. In 1926 the College becomes a Recognised College of Queen’s University. During this period the College comes under criticism for its embrace of theological liberalism. This culminates in a charge of heresy being brought against Professor James Ernest Davey in 1926-27. The College officially reopens in October 1932 and the inaugural lecture is delivered by the Scottish Historian Robert Rait.

Between 1941 and 1948 the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the city police, use the College as its own headquarters are bombed in the Belfast Blitz. In 1953, to mark the College’s centenary year, Prof. Davey is elected Moderator of the General Assembly.

In 1976 theological teaching at Magee College in Derry, County Londonderry, ceases and the two colleges amalgamate in 1978. The new college, constituted by an Act of Parliament, is named Union Theological College.

Today Union Theological College offers a full range of courses in Theology. The professors of the College constitute the Presbyterian Theological Faculty Ireland (PTFI) which was granted a Royal Charter in 1881 to confer academic degrees. The PTFI still awards degrees, diplomas and certificates. The majority of students are enrolled for degrees and diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate, through the Institute of Theology of the Queen’s University of Belfast, in particular the BTh, BD, MTh and PhD.


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Founding of the Royal University of Ireland

The Royal University of Ireland is founded by Royal Charter on April 27, 1880 in accordance with the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 as an examining and degree-awarding university based on the model of the University of London. The first chancellor is the Irish chemist Robert Kane.

The university becomes the first university in Ireland that can grant degrees to women on a par with those granted to men, granting its first degree to a woman on October 22, 1882. In 1888 Letitia Alice Walkington has the distinction of becoming the first woman in Great Britain or Ireland to receive a degree of Bachelor of Laws. Among the honorary degree recipients of the university is Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and later President of Ireland, who is awarded a DLitt in 1906.

The Royal University of Ireland is the successor to the Queen’s University of Ireland, dissolved in 1882, and the graduates, professors, students and colleges of that predecessor are transferred to the new university. In addition to the Queen’s Colleges, Magee College, University College Dublin, Cecillia St. Medical School, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Blackrock College present students for examinations as well, and no special status is accorded to the colleges of the former Queen’s University. After the 1880 reforms Catholic Colleges such as St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, Holy Cross College and Blackrock College come under the Catholic University, and with a number of other seminaries present students for examination by the RUI.

External students not of approved colleges can sit examinations of the Royal University although they are seen as being at a disadvantage to those of designated colleges whose professors are part of the university. In fact, many schools, including convent schools prepare students for the examinations of the Royal University.

Like the Queen’s University, the Royal University is entitled to grant any degree, similar to that of any other university in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, except in theology. The colleges themselves award degrees in theology and divinity.

The professorships and Senate of the Royal University are shared equally between Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, colleges of the university maintain full independence except in the awarding of degrees, and the compilation and enforcement of academic regulations and standards.

The members of the senate of the Royal University included Gerald Molloy, William Joseph Walsh, John Healy, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, George Arthur Hastings Forbes, 7th Earl of Granard, Daniel Mannix, George Johnston Allman.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the Royal University of Ireland)


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Kidnapping of Writer Brian Keenan

Irish writer Brian Keenan is taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 11, 1986.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time include Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid-1980s Keenan returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by Islamic Jihad. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by his hands and feet when taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both British and Irish passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap the government also provides support to Keenan’s two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release.

Keenan is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since being released 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city. He now lives in Dublin.

(Pictured: Brian Keenan arrives at Dublin Airport after his release from captivity in Beirut in August 1990)