An Educational Charity | Charity Reg. No. NIC100280
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Dublin University

Dublin University. During the eighteenth century, the only university in Ireland was the Elizabethan foundation of Trinity College Dublin,156 incorporated by charter on 3 March 1592 - originally with a Provost, three Fellows and three Scholars. Between 1610 and 1613 James I endowed the college with grants of plantation lands, and in 1613 he granted the university a further charter enabling it to return two members of parliament. By the end of the eighteenth century the College electorate numbered 92, and was composed of 22 Fellows and 70 Scholars.157 Officially exclusively Anglican, it was the stronghold of the 'ascendancy'. It exercised an immense influence over the Irish parliament, which it faced across College Green, and in the galleries of the House of Commons many of the students received their first political education by following the debates on the floor beneath them. Until 1795 they were admitted to the galleries when wearing their gowns. In 1795 they lost this privilege for shouting and cheering an inflammatory speech of Grattan (0895) following the recall of Lord Lieutenant Fitzwilliam.158 Alumni Dublinenses159 gives some indication of the large numbers of students who graduated from Dublin University to the nearby House of Commons, where the affairs of 'our College' invariably aroused the keenest interest.

In 1774 Lord Harcourt informed Lord North that the Provost had 'in a manner, the disposal of a Borough'.160 This was due to the pre‑eminent position of the Provost within the College, combined with the fact that he was the nominee of the Crown, and to the Crown alone he was ultimately responsible. The governing charter of the University had been remodelled by Archbishop Laud during the seventeenth century, and in it the Provost had been given extremely wide powers. To him belonged the direct or indirect bestowal of all academic rewards or emoluments, including the virtual nomination of all Fellows and Scholars. In addition he had very wide disciplinary powers which he could exercise against a large number of minor offences161 as, although the statutes enforcing them had been tacitly allowed to lapse, they were still technically in operation. The governing board of the College was composed of the Provost and the seven Senior Fellows; the Provost had an absolute veto, if he chose to exercise it, over any decision taken by the majority of the board. Under these circumstances the Provost, who was also the returning officer at parliamentary elections, could feel reasonably assured of seeing his nominees returned to parliament for the University, and this was usually the case before John Hely‑Hutchinson (1001) was appointed Provost in 1774.

Representatives of the University were expected to be well connected and respectable. William Molyneux (1425) had represented the University for both parliaments of William III and his son, Samuel (1423), sat briefly in the parliament of George II. In 1768 this essential qualification led to a curious shifting of candidates involving three boroughs - Dublin University, Clogher and Ballyshannon. The Provost, Francis Andrews (0040), wished to bring into parliament his relation, William Gamble (0839), 'whom he had not the face to recommend to the College', so he arranged with the Bishop of Clogher that the bishop's candidate, Sir Capel Molyneux (1421) - who was 'nephew to the famous Molyneux (1425), Locke's friend'162 - should stand for the University, while John Staples (1985), the brother‑in‑law of Thomas Conolly (0459), should stand for Clogher and William Gamble should replace Staples as Conolly's  nominee for the completely rotten borough of Ballyshannon. This would ensure respectable candidates for both the bishop and the University. In the general election of 1768 this complicated manoeuvre was completely successful, and it is an interesting comment on the state of the Irish representative system. Provost Andrews had a reputation for being 'an excellent Politician', although personally 'He is arbitrary, supercilious and turbulent yet a most faithful counsillor [sic] to G[overnmen]t.'163

The appointment of John Hely‑Hutchinson as Provost on the death of Francis Andrews in June 1774 was extremely unpopular both socially and academically.164 His appointment was purely political, although it must be added that Hely‑Hutchinson was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant Irishmen in an age of uncommon lustre. As an orator he was on a par with Grattan, Flood (0762), who was his rival for the Provostship, and Anthony Malone (1336), while his written opinion157 on the economic condition of Ireland in 1779, as submitted by the Lord Lieutenant to the Secretary of State for the Southern Department, was equalled in clarity and detail only by that of John Foster (0805). Nevertheless, he was not an academic, although as Provost he was to prove both able and efficient. His successors, Dr Richard Murray (1795-9), and Dr John Kearney, were non‑political appointments: both were in holy orders, and Dr Kearney became Bishop of Ossory in 1806. Kearney had previously been Vice‑Provost and on his appointment Lord Cornwallis, though sorely pressed for patronage on the eve of the Union, wrote that 'The situation of Provost might have been disposed of, at this moment, to more political advantage; but it appeared to me more for the interest of the University, and consequently for the character of Government, that the appointment should be purely with a view to the promotion of learning, and good discipline within the College.'166 The interests of the College had an inflexible patron in the Vice‑Chancellor and Visitor, John Fitzgibbon (0749), Earl of Clare, who as a young man had successfully petitioned against the return of the Provost's nominee in the 1776 parliamentary elections and himself represented the University constituency from 1778 to 1783.

Able, ambitious and one of the greatest pluralists in Ireland, John Hely‑Hutchinson was undoubtedly attracted to the office of Provost by the political power apparently attached to it,167 but it is unlikely that he wished to do more than exercise the same political power as his predecessor had possessed. However, this appointment was the signal for a cold war between the Provost and a number of the disappointed Fellows of the College led by Dr Patrick Duigenan (0664). The quarrel reached such dimensions that in 1777 Dr Duigenan published a book entitled Lachrymae Academicae,168 which purported to be a description of the conduct of Hely‑Hutchinson since his appointment, with special reference to the 1776 election for the College. This was followed by a law suit for libel, instituted by the Provost of the University against the Regius Professor of English Law, but after a hearing of 15 days the judge dismissed the case with the comment 'that he left the school to its own correctors'.169 It is probable that the actual facts given in the book by Duigenan are quite true, but that his interpretation is warped by his opinion of the Provost.

Prior to the election of 1776, the Provost had recalled his son from Oxford, as MPs for the College were expected to be members of it and also to build up an interest in its support. Of the election itself, Dr Duigenan gave the following description:

On the day of election of members of parliament, the Provost himself being the returning Officer, two of the choicest ruffians who excelled all the rest in savage behaviour and brutality, were stationed in the hall, having received proper instructions for their conduct. After the poll had been taken by the Provost and many of the voters had left the hall, the Provost read over the list of the voters, and each of these two men made objections to the votes of several of the Fellows and scholars, though no objection had been made when they respectively voted: under colour of these objections, they most villainously traduced the characters of several of the Fellows, in the opposite interest to that of the Provost; boldly asserting the most scandalous falsehoods, without attempting the least proof of them: knowing themselves, by his protection secure from any Collegiate punishment …170

From this description it is hardly surprising to see that Richard Hely‑Hutchinson (1003)171 led the poll. However, a successful petition was made against his election and he was replaced by John Fitzgibbon, afterwards Earl of Clare.

The Provost - in so far as this was possible for a consummate politican - did not openly interest himself in future elections for the constituency until the election of 1790,172 when he only just managed to secure the return of his second son,Francis Hely‑Hutchinson (1000). The election was a rowdy one, in the course of which 'a bullrush chair' in 'two parts' was thrown at the Provost, now nearly 70 years of age. The election was controverted, and it was only the influence of the chairman that persuaded the committee to reject the petition. Had the appointment of John Hely‑Hutchinson not resulted in a bitter quarrel within the University, the Provost would probably have continued to influence the returns for the College, as his predecessors had done. A considerable amount of prestige was attached to representing the College, and throughout the century most of its members were men of considerable ability.

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Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100280