In 1845, Mrs Martha Magee endowed the
College with her name and a substantial bequest to establish an institution in Ireland to
prepare entrants for the Presbyterian ministry. The land was provided by the city of Londonderry. Twenty
years later, Magee College opened the doors of the present elegant Gothic building
(designed by the Dublin architect Gribben and built, on the expressed wish of the
trustees, in Scottish freestone).
Growing with the City
At that time, Londonderry was a rapidly
developing industrial centre, with a bustling port which took full advantage of the
expansion of transatlantic traffic and the developing manufacture base concentrated in new
factories along the River
Foyle. Although the College's principal function at the time was to educate for the
Presbyterian ministry, it was from the outset open to all denominations and had a
substantial Faculty of Arts. A firm belief in the importance of extra-mural programmes was
evident from the beginning and has since then seen the College acquire a pioneering
reputation in the province for this important area of community education.
A Part of the University Scene
In 1880, new impetus was given to the
educational provision at Magee College by its incorporation into the newly-formed Royal
University of Ireland. Red brick professional houses houses which 100 years later were to
accommodate the work of the growing faculties, were added progessively to the site.
Student numbers grew and by the turn of the century Magee College was, in terms of its
student population, half the size of the then Queen's College, Belfast and larger than the
Colleges at Cork and Galway. However, at that time the Royal University was replaced by
the National University of Ireland, a watershed in the history of Magee College, bringing
to an end its first flourishing phase of development. The College failed to join either
the new institution or The Queen's University, Belfast,
which was formed in 1908. Instead, Magee College established a relationship with Magee
students completed their third and fourth years of university at TCD and had conferred upon them degrees of Trinity College.
Funding it's Work
Magee had enjoyed a small government
subsidy under the Royal University. This was not resumed until 1938 and full government
grant aid was not given until 1953 when Magee University College was given a separate
existence from the Theological College. For the first half century, Magee had depended
almost entirely on private grants and bequests, principally from the Hon the Irish
Society, which funded the early professorial establishment. Recurring financial problems
constrained its academic provision and development, and its student population at times
fell well below that of the nineteenth century. Full government funding in 1953 opened up
the most fulfilling phase in the history of the College. The academic community more than
doubled and the original six professorships were supplemented by a number of lecturing
posts. The range of subjects available for study expanded and the growing student
population included a number from Great Britian, Ireland and overseas.
By the early 1960s there were hopes that
Magee would become the province's second University. The 1964 report of the Lockwood
Committee on the state of higher education in Northern Ireland failed to satisfy these
aspirations, recommending that the second university should be established at Coleraine
and that Magee University College be closed. Opposition to this proposal led to a
government decision that Magee should be incorporated into the New University of Ulster.
Magee became the location for Continuing Education in the new institution.
1845 - Martha Magee leaves bequest to establish
institution for training of Presbyterian Ministry in Ireland.
1865 - Magee College opened.
1880 - Magee College incorporated into Royal University of
Ireland, formed by Disraeli's University Education (Ireland) Act of 1879.
1883 - Women allowed to enter as fully matriculated students
for the first time.
1900 - Approximate time Royal University replaced by National
University of Ireland.
1908 - The Queen's University, Belfast, established.
1938 - Magee College receives
1953 - The Magee University College Londonderry Act leads to
full government grant aid.
1965 - Report of Lockwood Committee on Higher Education in
Northern Ireland recommends that a university be established at Coleraine and that Magee
College be closed.
1969 - Magee College incorporated into the New University of
1983 - Higher education in Northern Ireland again reviewed;
government decides to merge New University of Ulster (including Magee College) with the
1984 - Opening of the University of Ulster.
1988 - Completion of new Phase I building.
1989 - Completion of Carrickmore House and main building
1990 - Completion of Phase II (library).
1991 - Refurbishment of Main Building.
1992 - Completion of 3/4 College Avenue extension.
1993 - Completion of Strand Road student hostel.
1995 - Completion of Phase III (Sports Complex and
Informatics). Completion of Duncreggan Road student residences and floodlit all-weather
1995 - U.S.
President Clinton visits Londonderry, receives an honorary degree and innagurates the
Thomas O'Neill Chair for the Study of Peace and Conflict Resolution during Magee
College's 150th year.
Joining the University of Ulster
Although the period between then and the
establishment of the University of Ulster saw much
innovative work, particularly the very successful foundation course for mature students,
the population of Magee College halved in size and became almost exclusively local in
origin. The number of academic staff fell and some of the College's accommodation was
loaned to other bodies. In 1983 it was decided to merge the New University of Ulster,
including Magee College, with the Ulster Polytechnic. The founders of the new institution
decided that the primary focus of initial development and expansion should be the Magee
College campus and the story since than has been one of sustained growth and development.
The University of Ulster is a four-campus institution
with other sites at Coleraine (which houses the
administrative headquarters), Jordanstown
(the largest campus) and Belfast
(which houses the Faculty of Art and Design). The University is one of the largest in the
United Kingdom. Since 1984, with the initial support and approval of the Universities
Grants Committee (and now the Universities Funding Council) and the Department of
Education for Northern Ireland, over £8.5m has been allocated to fund the development of
the buildings, grounds, resources and academic activities of Magee College. This has done
much to repay the faith in Magee shown by the community in the North-West for over 150
years. The continuing fulfilment of that faith will be the next chapter in the history of
Last updated: 26/08/10