Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 3 October 2019
Tales from 1919: A University President Moves On
The first week of October 1919, one hundred years ago, coincided with the formal announcement of the resignation of Sir Bertram Windle, President of University College, Cork. The Cork Examiner relates that during his connection with University College Cork of over 18 years, he had made great progress in attracting new students – the number of students peaking 629 in 1919. This constituted a record for any Irish academic session. The College Governing Body praised the success of Sir Bertram Windle’s efforts.
In 1908, the University Act was passed. Bertram Windle was one of the Chief Advisers of both the government and the Roman Catholic Bishops, who removed the semi-official religious ban, which had previously existed. The Act enabled the college in its new guise, as a constituent college of the National University, to take its place in the national life.
On the university campus, through his work, Bertram Windle saw the construction of a new chemical and physical laboratory, and a new biological laboratory. He re-conditioned and re-organised the medical school. Private benefaction was also enlisted in support of projects, when government assistance could not be obtained. Prominent among these gifts were the Honan Hostel, the Honan Scholarships and the Honan Chapel.
Windle’s services to the church and education were honoured by the Pope in 1909 when he was made a Knight, of St Gregory the Great, and he received an additional honour of knighthood from the King. Once he had revived and reorganised the Cork College he was once more able to devote himself to literary work, and several important books appeared from his pen. His work, The Church and Science (1917), was awarded the Gunning Prize by the Victoria Institute in 1919, the first time this distinction was ever awarded to a Catholic writer.
Bertram Windle’s activities during these years were by no means confined to Cork. As President of the Irish Technical Association, he valued education and at the Industrial Conference in Cork in November 1905, he noted:
“The technical movement was open to every Irish man and woman; it knows nothing of political or religious difference, as that great meeting showed. We want to make the movement a practical one, and not a Cork conference…I ask whether it would not be a useful thing to bring about a closer touch between the Technical Education Committee and the Industrial Development Associations, which were springing up over the country…Delegates should attack their task. You are met with the object of doing a piece of work for yourselves and by yourselves, because you think it is a good thing that it should be carried out”.
In 1917-18, Bertram Windle acted as a member of the Irish Convention, summoned by Lloyd George, to arrange, if possible, an agreed scheme of self-government. He accepted the invitation to become a member of this assembly with enthusiasm, believing a resolution between North and South could be found. He was disappointed at the inconclusive settlement.
In the President’s or Bertram’s report for the session 1918-19 he particularly referred to various grievances – financial and disciplinary and focussed on the problem of the college being a constituent college of the National University. He persistently advocated for an independent university for Munster.
With the support of all the leading men of the Province and backed by resolutions of its lending bodies, a committee was formed in 1918 to further the project and bring it to fruition. Considerable progress was made, a draft bill was prepared, and the support of the government obtained. However, with the 1919 General Election and the rise of the new Sinn Féin party, the scheme lost national support.
A 1919 report by Bertram refers to the efforts of a deputation that in the course of the year waited on the Lord Lieutenant to urge claims for an independent University, and the refusal of the Government, despite the overwhelming case put forward a justification of such a course, to assent to it. The President asserts that as a consequence University College, Cork, remains “tied hand and foot”, and at the mercy of a permanent majority belonging to another College.
Notwithstanding drawbacks, Bertram could point with pride to the fact that during bis tenure of office as President of University College, Cork, he had the satisfaction of seeing the College nearly doubled in buildings, nearly trebled in the number of students, and the recipient of public investment amounting to over £100,000.
In October 1919, Bertram accepted an offer to give a special course of lectures at the University of Ontario, Toronto, Canada and later was made professor of cosmology and anthropology in St Michael’s College, and special lecturer on ethnology at that University. During his career in Canada he became, a prominent figure in the intellectual life of the British Commonwealth. As a writer he won distinction in many branches of learning. He was considered on unrivalled authority on comparative anatomy and certain branches of archaeology, and his writings in connection with Catholic philosophy won him a widespread reputation. He passed away in Toronto at the age of 70 at the University of Toronto after a relapse of pneumonia.
Kieran’s book The Little Book of Cork Harbour (2019) is published by The History Press and is available in Waterstones, Vibes and Scribes and Easons.
1017a. Queen’s College Cork, c.1900 (source: National Library, Dublin)
1017a. Photograph of Bertram Windle (source: Cork City Library)