Text Size: A A A

Chronology of the College 


1951 – Fr. Edward Coyne sets up the “Catholic Workers College”
            103 registered students

1956-   Expansion Building phase 1

1962-   Expansion Building Phase 2

1964 – 1, 296 Registered Students

1965 – 1, 800 Registered Students

1965 – Liberty Hall formally opened ( President De Valera, Taoiseach Sean Lemass, and keynote address Fr. Kent)

1966 – Name Change to College of Industrial Relations

1968 – Irish Personnel Management Programme started

1969 – Fr. Kevin Quinn became director (until 1972)

1972 – Diploma course in Industrial relations

1972 – Fr. John Brady became Director (until 1981)

1981 – Fr. Bill Toner

1983 – Working party set up be Jesuit Provincial Fr. Joseph Dargan on direction of college report issued

1983 – Fr. Thomas J Morrissey Director

1983 – Name change to National College of Industrial Relations

1983 – Honorary Fellowships first conferred

1990 – Joyce O’Connor Director (until 2007)

1990 – Policy research centre set up

1991/1992 – Students eligible for grants

1993 – Board of management expanded 3 way partnership Trade unions / employers and Jesuit order

1995 – Generous transfer by the Jesuits of the land and buildings at Sandford Road to the Board of Management of the college.

1990s – 1998 (see report)

2000 – Name change to National College of Ireland

2003 – Move to NCI Campus in IFSC

2006 – Launch of the NCIris

2007 – Prof. Joyce O’Connor Retires, Dr. Paul Mooney takes position of President of the College

2010 – Dr. Phillip Matthews takes over as President of the College

2016 – Gina Quin commences as President of the College.

Catholic Workers College to National College of Ireland 1951-2007


Fr. Edward Coyne, S.J., Principal founder of the college, was heir to a well established Jesuit tradition of social concern in Ireland: From Tom Finlay, professor of economics at UCD and co-founder of the Irish Co-operative movement ; to Lambert McKenna, author of a celebrated work on the social teaching of James Connolly, defender of the rights of trade unions and of women in industry and severe critic of the ethos of liberal capitalism; to Edmund Cahill, author and founder of An Rioghacht – devoted to the promotion of Christian social principles in society and to the healing of civil war divisions; and to Richard Devane, concerned for young offenders and known as the father of unmarried mothers because of his protests on their behalf in front of the Dail. 

Fr. Coyne continued this tradition of concern by his writings, and by his informal contact with trade unionists and businessmen, which he combined with Professor of Theology at Milltown Park and being president of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.

Start of the Catholic Workers College

At the close of the Second World War there was a widespread desire to improve social conditions, which was joined, in Ireland, to a renewed sense of nationality and an awareness of the threat posed by the Soviet Union which was now dominating Eastern Europe and eager to promote Communism throughout the world.

In the Irish Jesuit Province a committee was appointed to consider ways and means of applying to the Irish scene the principles enunciated in the papal social encyclicals. The committee was composed of Fr Coyne, Joseph Canavan, and Tom Counihan. They suggested the establishment of a social research centre, rather than a college , and Fr. Edmund Kent was sent to study Jesuit social work in New York and St. Louis. IN 1948, Dr. Tierney, President of UCD, approached FR. Coyne with a view to organising extra mural courses in Social and Economic Studies at UCD. In this venture , Fr. Coyne and Fr. Kent worked closely with trade union officials. This course proved so successful that at the end of the year a number of the trade union members approached Fr. Kent for further education. The result was a catholic workers college. The college held its first course for Trade Union Members, at the recently acquired Sandford Lodge in Sandford Road, Ranelagh in February 1951. 

When the college opened, lectures were held two nights a week; and the subjects in the early years embraced: “Economic problems, trade union Problems, argumentation; public speaking; catholic social principles; the Christian state; the Christian family; and history from the Christian point of view.

The teaching staff in the 1950s included 
Fr. Coyne Director, Rev Edmund Kent (his assistant) who, in practise, ran the college. 
Revs Michael Moloney, Kevin Quinn, Laurence Kearns, Des Reid, Liam McKenna, and Michael Connolly. Also on the teaching staff in those years, and on so till the 1990s, was Mr. Andrew Ryan, who played a significant role in the college’s history. 

In September of the opening year, 1951, a course for Employers/Management was commenced at the request of a number of employers. Looking back over the lists of early students, one finds the names of many who subsequently became leading figures in the trade union movement and in Irish Management.

Under Edmund Kent, as director, there was a conscious effort to empower ordinary people to take an active part in their various organisations, and to become active and discerning citizens. On such participation the success of democracy depended. In the 1930s and the 1950s, dictatorships swept to power where democracy was weak. The college’s modest beginnings soon expanded.

Extra accommodation was required. Phase 1 of a building programme was completed in 1956, and phase 2 in 1962. Boards of sponsors from trade unions and employer/ management were set up to provide links with the world of industry, to provide assistance to the director , and to approve the awards of college diplomas and certificates to individual students.

In 1951, there were 103 registered students.  

By 1964, the number had risen to 1, 296 attending trade union and management courses:

Trade Union Men  574 
Trade Union women  287 
Supervisors  233 
Basic Management students 202

And there were 524 others attending a variety of courses.

Although in that peak year, 1964-65, there were 1, 800 students enrolled.

Significantly, when the new Liberty Hall was formally opened in 1965, with President de Valera, and the Taoiseach, Sean Lemass in attendance, the keynote address was delivered by Fr. Kent.

The Change to College of Industrial Relations

In 1966 the next stage of major development took place. The educational needs across the country were changing with the introduction of free education, and a spirit of reconciliation had been emphasised by the Second Vatican Council. Responding to change, the name of the college was altered to the College of Industrial Relations:  The word “Catholic” had come to seem unecumenical, and “workers” seemed to imply a bias toward one side of industry. The college now focussed its attention on the development of industrial relations through the continuing education and formation of those involved in that area. In a rapidly changing society marching towards industrialisation, what was needed, in Fr. Kent’s words, was to break down inherited barriers in industry, the “Ghetto Mentality” and to cultivate “a habit of discussion and create an atmosphere of freedom and mutual responsibility.

In 1969, Fr Quinn succeeded Fr. Kent as director.

The following year it was decided to offer an academic Diploma Course in Industrial Relations. This ultimately came to be recognised by the National Council of Educational Awards (NCEA). The college continued to pursue its successful Irish Personnel Management Programme, which it had started in 1968.

In 1972 Fr. John Brady succeeded Fr. Quinn as director of the college. He was to remain in that position until 1981.

During those 9 years, adult education attendances fell away throughout the country. At the college, nevertheless, there were many significant developments. The Irish Personnel Management course evolved to join the national Diploma in Industrial Relations as a NCEA recognised programme; a Chartered Accountancy course for graduates was introduced; day-time and day-release courses were developed; and there was an increase in the core lecturing staff, comprising full time lay lecturers as well as Jesuits. The college was becoming increasingly professional and full-time in its core teaching staff, though the majority of its lecturers were on an hourly basis. The college continued to benefit, moreover, from the generous assistance of voluntary helpers, often past students who looked after evening enrolment, teas etc. The years 1972-1981 witnessed an increased emphasis on academic standards, and a growth in income from fees to meet increased expenditure. On the plant side, the main capital expenditure was in the extension of the car park.

Interim period

In 1981, Fr. Bill Toner succeeded John Brady on an interim basis to prepare for the colleges next major change. He served on a special working party set up by the Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Joseph Dargan, and composed of members drawn from unions and management under the chairmanship of Fr. Michael McGreil, to advise on how the college might best meet current and future needs and challenges. In his short but effective term, Fr. Toner consolidated internal staff relations, appointed a full time librarian and assistant, improved office and staff facilities, acquired audio-visual hardware for the purpose of preparing students for the effective use of television and camera skills, and commenced the process of applying for degree status in Industrial relations studies. 

In 1983 the working party report was issued , and the director designate, Fr. Thomas J. Morrissey, former headmaster of Crescent College Comprehensive, Limerick, returned from Preparatory programmes in the United States to take up to the position of director.

National College of Industrial Relations

The working Party’s report inaugurated the colleges third period of change. The report recommended the establishment of a board of management, and that the college pursue degree programmes and generally aim to raise its image and profile. As the only educational establishment offering a degree in Industrial relations, and also with a view to expansion outside Dublin, it was decided to change the name of the college to National College of Industrial Relations.

 A new Crest was devised - showing the strong hands of the worker and manager clasped; and a new motto conveyed the colleges key commitment, namely, to work and justice, with the words –“Per Laborem ad Justitiam”. 

Further impetus to the college’s rising profile was provide by the inauguration of Honorary Fellowships in recognition of contributions to Industrial Relations from the sides of the trade unions and management. The first recipients were Mrs Shelia Conroy, and Messrs Dan McAuley and Con Murphy. More extraneous factors contributed to the colleges public recognition in those years;

It being named in an Oireachtas Bill as an institution to which contributions could be made with tax benefits to the contributors; its choice as the location for key discussions between ESB management and union representatives when the country was on the verge of being plunged into darkness; its director being asked by the Minister of Labour to chair a Ministerial Committee on Worker participation; and by the visit to it of President Patrick Hillery to honour a founder director, on the occasion of the unveiling of Fr. Kents portrait.

The many new developments led to additional requirements. To provide extra lecture halls, expand the library, increase office space, and provide a computer training centre, adjustments were made to the existing building, and a second storey was built onto the 1962 wing. This was carried out under Mr. David Kelly, as architect, and with the assistance of Mr. J. Duggan, consultant, and the entire cost was funded with the support of industry, business, and the trade union movement.

Its standard courses, moreover, continued to prosper: the traditional trade Union course was restructured: in management studies some 220 students followed the colleges own diploma in Management and Industrial relations studies,  and a further 201 studied for the National Diploma in Personnel Management (NCEA). By day, the college ran a first year accountancy programme attended by over 90 students. In that year also, 1989-1990, all at NCIR rejoiced at seeing something long advocated by the college, the historic healing of old divisions by the merger of ITGWU and FWUI in SIPTU; and also the merger of Two unions long associated with the college, the Marine port and General workers Union , with its many memories of the late Jimmy Dunne, and the Post Office Workers Union.

In 1990 the director, Fr. Tom Morrissey, resigned for health reasons. The board of management advertised for a new director. Professor Joyce O’Connor, of Limerick University was chosen. Under her dynamic and concentrated leadership the college entered on its fourth period of expansion and adaptation, and its first such period under a lay director or president.

National College of Ireland

The first years of the new administration witnessed a number of significant developments. 

A Policy Research Centre was established in 1990

The following year, 1991-92, students became eligible for grants under the higher education grants scheme;

and in 1993 the Board of Management of the college expanded to embrace a three way partnership with trade unions, employers and the Jesuit Order . 

Other developments between 1990 and 1998 were: The generous transfer by the Jesuits in 1995 of the land and buildings at Sandford Road to the Board of Management of the college; a significant increase in student and staff numbers; the securing of government funding, and of private funding for pioneering new courses; the establishment of a Centre of Educational Opportunity; the expansion of Library services; and the opening of many off campus programmes in different parts of the country.

The Colleges teaching programme by 1998 included: full-time day courses, weekend day courses, evening courses, part-time occasional courses; flexible learning programmes, off campus programmes, and post graduate course by research.  

The full time course comprised: 
BA in accounting and Human Resource Management 
BA in European Business Studies and Languages 
National Certificate in Business Studies (industrial relations/ human resource management); 

and the college’s part-time courses were 
Diploma in Management and Industrial Relations 
Access courses in Cultural Studies, Social Studies, Women’s Studies and social development; and a diploma in First Line Management supervision

An important development for the college administration and the students was the recognition of all full-time courses and post-graduate degree course for grant-aid under the higher education grant scheme. In addition, tuition fees for part-time undergraduate courses of at least two yeas duration became eligible for tax relief at the standard rate.

The college was very fortunate in having had as chairman during this period of extensive development, the late Mr. Paddy Moriarty, who worked tirelessly to bring the college to its fifth period of expansion and adaptation as the national College of Ireland. To facilitate this Development, the Jesuit community at Sandford Lodge fittingly agreed to make available to the college the building and grounds where, forty-seven years previously, the historic venture first commenced.

get in touch

Online Enquiry