FOUNDING president of University of Limerick Dr Ed Walsh presented an archive of his papers to the University at a ceremony on campus last Tuesday.
The handover took place 50 years to the day since then Taoiseach Jack Lynch performed the official opening of the National Institute of Higher Education (NIHE), which was the forerunner of the institution now known as the University of Limerick.
The ceremony also coincided with the launch of launch of a year-long public exhibition, ‘A University of Our Time: University of Limerick, 1972–2022’, which is one of the many events to mark the anniversary of the establishment of the University.
The main component of the papers presented to UL President Professor Kerstin Mey and the Glucksman Library comprises 28 years of Dr Walsh’s diaries – over 300 in all – which recount significant events from the time.
“I used to have a diary in my wallet and when anything that I thought was of significance was happening – good or bad – I wrote it down,” Dr Walsh recalled.
“In the early days I was very conscious that, if we succeeded in what we were trying to do, it would be seen in hindsight as quite significant.
“I took quite a lot of notes almost hourly in the early days – buying the site, trying to encourage the minister to increase the budget from £5,000 for the first year, trying to get a telephone. In fact, we purchased the campus site here within weeks of I starting but I still hadn’t a telephone.
“I was on the job for 28 and a half years, so there are some over 300 different diaries. I spent a long time going through each page and writing down a summary on an excel spreadsheet, with a keyword. I am also giving two discs to the President – one that has a chronological sequence of events for 28 and a half years, and the other is based on topics.
“People frequently contact me to ask ‘are you sure about this or that’, and I go to this database and I discover very often that I have the answers,” Dr Walsh explained.
Thanking Dr Walsh for the “treasure trove” of papers, Professor Mey hailed “the importance of his leadership for the foundation and establishment of the University, and the importance and excitement that he has handed his papers to UL.
“The resulting archive is vital for our organisational history and our organisational future, to understand how hard the region fought for higher education and the transformative impact it has had already and will have going forward,” she added.
The’ University of Our Time’ exhibition, curated by Dr Zara Power of UL’s Department of History, was described by Professor May as a “wonderful immersion in the journey taken through the first steps of establishing our founding institution.
“When our minds are cast to the 1970s, I am sure that many of the day could have hardly foreseen the magnificent campus and infrastructure that this University occupies today.
“UL is at the heart of this region, and we can reflect on our history with immense pride,” Professor Mey added.
The exhibition in the Millstream Building, which is open to the public, explores the origins and development of the University and the institutions that went before it.
Drawing on a range of objects, images, documents, oral histories, and video footage, the multimedia exhibition looks at the campaign for a university, the establishment of the NIHE and the National College of Physical Education, and Thomond College of Education, the attainment of university status and the part played by students, staff, donors, and others in establishing a community of scholars and students at Plassey.
The exhibition is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.