‘UNIVERSITY HOPES soaring’ read the front-page headline in the Limerick Leader on June 2, 1962.
Sitting in the Clarion hotel in the city this week, educationalist Tony Bromell, a former two-time mayor of Limerick, remembers being in the thick of all the action.
Tony, aged 80, is the last surviving member of the executive committee formed to lobby for a Limerick university. The original committee came together in 1959 and saw their project through to completion.
The former registrar for Mary Immaculate College said he was “delighted” to receive the latest Limerick Person of the Month award on behalf of all the members of that pioneering committee, who were never officially recognised in their lifetime for their campaign.
Despite several requests, he laments there is still no physical recognition on the UL campus of the committee, even though busts are placed around the sprawling campus in recognition of others who have graced its halls.
“I’m delighted to accept this award, especially for the committee, and I’d like to stress that it is a committee award.”
The grandfather of six, who was a city councillor for 17 years, said the committee members were all “solid citizens who had real community spirit.
“There was never an argument or falling out in the committee, even when difficulties arose,” he said, adding that there was plenty of challenging times to confront them all in the years ahead as they took their case to a number of education ministers.
Overall, there were up to 60 members on the committee, people who were drawn from past pupils’ unions across Limerick and beyond, but in essence, the core committee, “an executive committee if you like” rested on the shoulders of the eight people seen in the picture below.
Dr Margaret Lyddy was the only woman on the committee, who was nominated by her husband to join as an ideal candidate because of her belief in education,
“Gender didn’t get into it, we all just got on,” he said.
“We were so young when we set out to campaign for a university for Limerick. I had just left college in 1955, after studying Irish, history and mathematics at University College Galway. I was about 25 when we set up the Limerick University Project Committee in 1959.
“Really, the whole campaign from then on, through to 1989, shows the power of the community when you get people together working on an agreed agenda.
It was a community success. It shows that if people know exactly what they want they’ll get it, even though there’ll be disappointments along the way.”
Tony said he was the “statistician” on the committee, and quickly took to work compiling figures of how many Limerick people were students in other colleges, and whether the establishment of such an institution locally would impact upon a person’s decision in deciding to go to college.
One of the most interesting points he said they made in the submission to the Department of Education was the fact that in 1958/59 in all the national universities of Ireland there were only 75 students from Limerick city.
“Galway had 224 students, and in Dublin colleges, 48% attending came within an area of within a 30-mile radius. There was a ban on Catholic students in Trinity College Dublin at the time, so the amount of Limerick students there would have been very, very small. In all, there were 5,980 students in all the colleges in Ireland that time, and Limerick accounted for just 0.01%,” he explains.
“Were if not for us the university mightn’t be there at all, or it could be there in a different guise today. You can see in Waterford the efforts being made to have WIT being recognised as a university.
“UL wouldn’t be what it is today were it not for all those efforts 50 years ago. It’s truly staggering to see the campus grow and become what it is today.”