Research guide: UL photographic archive

This guide provides an overview of the UL Photographic Archive (ULPA) held in the Special Collections and Archives department at the Glucksman Library.
Print of the Stables. By Sean F. Cooke, A.M.P.A, c.1970s. (ULPA/4/892).

© All images held at Glucksman Library. Please contact us for copyright information and permission to reproduce.

1. Overview

This research guide gives insight into the University of Limerick Photographic Archive which is currently being catalogued and digitised.

This digitisation project began as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of UL, UL50. The Special Collections and Archives Department undertook to catalogue the photographic element of the University Archives and was decided that a representative sample would be digitised and made available on the recently launched UL Digital Library. This will make this material, spanning from the 1960s to the mid-2000s, more accessible to the UL community,  and also to the general public worldwide.  Some of these photographs were previously uploaded to Flickr in 2012, as part of the UL40 Celebrations.

This collection contains photographs taken over the years at the University of Limerick, as well as at its precursor, the National Institute of Higher Education (NIHE), as well as the National College of Physical Education and Thomond College of Education. The photographs include the campaign for a University in Limerick and the Limerick University Project Committee (LUPC) in the 1950s and 1960s, and its student counterpart, the Limerick Student University Project Committee (LSUPC). The images track the development of the campus from its humble beginnings in Plassey House in 1972, to the sprawling campus that now exists.

This collection is currently divided into 5 series: series Thomond College of Education, NIHE Planning Board, NIHE Collection, the Main Collection and the Eoin Stephenson Collection.

2. Campaign for a university

A university in Limerick did not come easily. The people of Limerick fought hard to have a university and actively campaigned to achieve their goal.


“Limerick Demands a University” campaigners parading in Limerick City, August 1966 (ULPA/4/7)


The Limerick University Project Committee (LUPC) and its student counterpart, the Limerick Student University Project Committee (LSUPC) played a significant role in this campaign. Their activities included raising awareness through advertisements and posters in local press and in cinemas and through public meetings, protests, and demonstrations. There was also letter writing campaigns and fundraising though dances and subscriptions.

Relevant UL Archive material:

  • LUPC Material
  • ULPA/4: Main Collection
  • ULPA/5: Eoin Stephenson Collection

3. National Institute of Higher Education (NIHE)

After much back and forth debate, on 10 April 1969, a Higher Education Authority (HEA) report was released, recommending an institution for higher education with a technological basis in Limerick. It was planned that this institute would open in Autumn 1971.

In February 1970, a planning board was formed with the tasks of finding a location for the institution, commencing construction, planning courses, and sorting out staff and facilities. This board consisted of (L-R in the image below) Margaret Lyddy and James Lyons of the LUPC, Finbar O’Callaghan, Chairman Dr Ed Walsh, Anne Sadlier, his secretary, Paul Quigley, Phillip Hilliard and Declan O’Keeffe.


Meeting of Planning Board in the Intercontinental Hotel in Limerick , c.1971. by Sean F. Cooke (ULPA/2/1/1)


Plassey was identified as a location for this new institution, as it was close to the city and had space for future expansion and for business development.


NIHE Limerick campus site 26 July 1972. By Sean F. Cooke (ULPA/4/771/1)


Laying foundations for Phase 1A development, c.1973. By Sean F. Cooke (ULPA/4/773/1)


Due to lack of funding and delays in finding staff, the institute did not open in 1971 as planned and instead opened the following year. Over 1,000 students applied for the institute and 114 were accepted. They attended classes for the first time on 26 September 1972.


Students on First Day at NIHE at the West Entrance to Plassey House. By Sean F. Cooke. (ULPA/2/3/5)


This was followed by an official opening ceremony on 27 September 1972.


Dr Edward Walsh’s Address at Opening Ceremony. By Sean F. Cooke (ULPA/2/4/6)


There were some issues in the early days, for example, there was a question of if the first students, who were due to graduate in 1976, would even be able to do so. The NIHE was not able to grant valid degrees. As a result, degrees would have to be validated degrees on behalf of the NUI either by University College Cork or Galway.

This resulted in a number of protests and demonstrations by Limerick students and citizens.


Student protests at NIHE Limerick due to the question of degrees, 1976 (ULPA/4/25)


The first graduation at NIHE was held on 18 July 1977 and degrees were awarded by TK Whitaker, chancellor of the NUI.


First graduation at NIHE Limerick, 18 July 1977. By Sean F. Cooke (ULPA/4/591/1)


Relevant UL Archive material:

  • ULPA/2: NIHE Planning Board Archive
  • ULPA/3: Main Collection

4. National College of Physical Education (NCPE)

Following the publication of a Report on Higher Education in 1968, it was agreed that Physical Education needed better teacher training and should have a more significant place in the curriculum. It was decided that this teacher training would take place in a National College of Physical Education which would be founded on the Plassey Campus, in Limerick. This National College of Physical Education and the NIHE were to be integrated, sharing a library and sports facilities, and some staff.

In 1969, Irish students were given scholarships to begin degrees at St Mary’s University Twickenham. It was planned that the 1971 scholarship holders would be transferred to the new college when it opened. In August 1973, 147 students arrived at Plassey Campus.


View of NCPE building, 1974. By Sean F. Cooke (ULPA/1/1/6)


Relevant UL Archive material:

  • ULPA/1: Main collection

5. Thomond College of Education (TCE)

During this time, there was also a desire to improve the training of woodwork, metalwork, rural science and building construction teachers. Consequently, in March 1976, the NCPE was incorporated into the new Thomond College of Education which would provide these specialist subjects and continue to train Physical Education teachers too.


View of the rear of Thomond College building, [1978] (ULPA/1/1/20)


Member of Governing Body addressing audience at TCE graduation ceremony (ULPA/1/3/4)

6. University of Limerick (UL)

On 12 January 1989, Mary O’Rourke Minister for Education officially announced University Status for NIHE Limerick.


Announcement of University status for NIHE Limerick by Mary O’Rourke Minister for Education at Plassey House left to right, John Murray, Attorney General; Dr Ed Walsh, President; Gerard Collins, TD, Minister for Justice; Mary O’Rourke, Minister for Education; John A. Daly, Chairman, Governing Body; and Michael Smith, TD, Minister for Energy. By Sean F. Cooke (ULPA/4/1080/1).


This was followed by the passing of the University of Limerick Bill by Dáil Éireann in May 1989. This was signed into law by the president in June 1989. The University was inaugurated on the 14 September 1989.

In 1990, the five surviving members of the LUPC formally dissolved the committee at a civic reception.


Limerick University Project Committee (LUPC) members at the announcement of university title, 1989. Left to right: Brian Geary, Johnny Maloney (chairman), Ed Walsh, Margaret Lyddy, Tony Bromell, Sean Prendergast, James Lysons, Jack O’Dwyer, and John Daly. By Sean Cooke, A.M.P.A. (ULPA/4/6)


In October 1990, the decision was made to dissolve Thomond College of Education into the newly formed University of Limerick as a ‘College of Education.’ An official merger was held on 28 June 1991.


Photo 15: Official merger of the University of Limerick and Thomond College of Education, 28 June 1991. (ULPA/4/212)


Relevant UL Archive material:

  • ULPA/4: Main Collection
  • ULPA/5 Eoin Stephenson Collection

7. Photographers throughout UL’s history

The UL Photographic Archive Collection contains the work of many photographers. The two main photographers throughout the collection are Sean F Cooke, who took many of the photos in the early days, and Eoin Stephenson, who worked as a photographer for UL from the 1990s to the mid-2000s. Press 22, an Irish photographic agency, with headquarters in Limerick also took many of the photographs in the collection.

Other photographers include Lensmen; Denis MacDonald; Photostyle, Robert Allen; Mac Innes Photography Limited; Frank Fennell; Michael Martin; P. O’Driscoll, Media Ireland; John Sheehan; Industrial and Advertising P.R and Press Photography; Tony O’Malley, J. E. Malcolm; Arthur Gough; Tropical Products Institute, Maurice Gunning and the Limerick Leader.

8. Themes and highlights in the archive

This collection covers a variety of aspects of the University of Limerick’s history. Common themes throughout the collection include students, staff, campus development and construction, technology, fashion, art, and music. These themes, and others, are explored in our 2022 Advent Calendar. Below are some highlights from UL’s history over the past 50 years:

click individual images to zoom

  1. Key UL figures over the years
  2. Dr Edward Walsh, UL President

    John A Daly, Chairman of the Governing Body

    Anne Sadlier


  3. Famous faces
  4. Students attending Introduction to University Programme career workshops, 1990s – including a young Cillian Murphy! (ULPA/4/1034)


  5. Changing fashion

  7. Student life

  9. Technology

9. Digital Library

A representative sample of these photographs have been digitised and can be browsed on the UL Digital Library.

You can also contact the Special Collections and Archives department and we can do our best to help you find what you are looking for.


Items on the digital library can be filtered by the date created. You also use the search bar to search for specific people or events and filter results by clicking which collection the photos are a ‘member of’ (see image below).

10. Further reading and resources