Founding president of University of Limerick Dr Ed Walsh has presented a ‘vital archive’ of his papers to the University. Exactly 50 years to the day since then Taoiseach Jack Lynch performed the official opening of the National Institute of Higher Education (NIHE), UL’s forerunner, Dr Walsh will hand over the archive of work diaries from almost three decades at a ceremony on campus this Tuesday afternoon.
Taking place also this afternoon is the exhibition launch of ‘A University of Our Time: University of Limerick, 1972–2022’, a year-long public exhibition, one of the many events to mark the anniversary of the establishment of the University.
The main component of the papers being presented to UL President Professor Kerstin Mey and the Glucksman Library comprises 28 and a half years of Dr Walsh’s diaries – over 300 in all in 26 boxes – which recount significant events from the time.
Dr Walsh noted that he and UL President Professor Kerstin Mey were due to speak at the ceremony “Precisely 50 years to the hour from the time the Taoiseach performed the official opening in 1972".
“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. 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,” Dr Walsh explained.
“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 (in the job) 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 the answers,” Dr Walsh added.
President Mey thanked Dr Walsh for the “treasure trove” of papers he was handing over and 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, for generations to come to understand how hard the region fought for higher education and the transformative impact it has had already and will have going forward,” said Professor Mey.
The exhibition, curated by Dr Zara Power of UL’s Department of History, is a “wonderful immersion in the journey taken through the first steps of establishing our founding institution”, Professor Mey said.
“I am delighted to be able to open this exhibition that really is a masterclass in documenting our history.
“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. A dream, a desire and a cohort filled with dedication, as documented here in both the oral and written evidence – knew that an institution of excellence was needed for Limerick and after five decades, we now have a colossus of education as it has been so eloquently put.
“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 from Wednesday, 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, 9am-5pm. For more, see www.ul.ie/50.