From the Armistice to the Berkeley tragedy: Commemorating the UCD community

On a gusty Friday morning, James Stone, a piper and student of Music & English in UCD, lead a solemn procession from the Masonic annex of Richview, across Belfield campus, to the University’s contemplative Rose Garden behind Belfield House. Speaking over the growing winds in the Rose Garden, UCD’s Dr Conor Mulvagh told the crowd of students and faculty of the young men that had come through the University, “to fill the ranks of the junior officer class whose role in leading their troops on the battlefield exposed them to some of the most acute dangers in the industrialised killing fields of the war.”

A geographical map of the places UCD students died in the First World War. (Source:

A minute’s silence in the garden commemorated the 43 members of the UCD community who lost their lives in the First World War. Two-thirds of them served in medical roles and, according to research by Dr Mulvagh, many are buried and commemorated “everywhere from Basra in Iraq, to Glasnevin here in Dublin, with the majority in France and Belgium”, emphasising the “global nature of the conflict”. An exhibition compiled by MA Public History students on “UCD and the Armistice, 1918 - 2018” is on display across campus throughout November. It contains the names of those who were killed in action or died on active service from the UCD community.

Each person in the procession held a light and the name of a student or graduate of UCD who fought in the First World War. In Dr Mulvagh’s case, he held a card bearing the name of Denis Gwynn, a soldier in the Royal Munster Fusiliers who became a professor of Irish history at UCC, having been invalided home to Ireland in 1917. “He wrote a book on John Redmond and his father, who was an MP at the time,” Mulvagh says, “and I’ve been reading both Stephen and Denis Gwynn’s work since I was an undergraduate.”

The commemoration of the 1918 Armistice is part of UCD’s Decade of Centenaries programme, highlighting the University’s role in the most significant events leading up to the foundation of the State. According to Dr Mulvagh, in commemoration of the Armistice, “we weren't trying to interpret the meaning of why they served...the word sacrifice was not used, there was no question of sacrifice - it was about remembrance”.

Remembered in the Rose Garden, is UCD’s first Professor of National Economics, Thomas Kettle, one of the 43 men who died in the War. A plaque in the Garden, unveiled in 2016, bears his poem, ‘To My Daughter Betty, A Gift of God’, which he wrote just 5 days before his death in an assault on the village of Ginchy on the Somme. Kettle is also commemorated by a bust in St Stephens Green which bears the final lines of the poem:

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,—
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

Thomas Kettle is also honoured by the UCD Economics Society's Thomas Kettle Award. Recipients of the award, which acknowledges significant achievements and contributions to public life, include Jeffrey Sachs, Peter Sutherland and economist and diplomat TK Whitaker.

UCD’s campus has many more quiet commemorations to its community. The University’s contemplative space in the Rose Garden opened in September 2015, following the tragedy in Berkeley that summer. Two benches were installed, one in remembrance of the six students who died and seven seriously injured in the balcony collapse in Berkeley, and another commemorating all UCD students who died while attending the University.

In a humble spot adorned by trees and ferns, near the Engineering Building, lies a commemorative plaque and a tree planted in memory of Niall Cooney and Conor O’Keeffe, students of the Mechanical Engineering Class of 2001. O’Keeffe had been Captain of UCD’s Mountaineering Club and died following a fall in Glendalough in September 2000. In his memory, his family established the Conor O’Keeffe Fund, which supported subsidised professional training for members of the Club for years. During his time in UCD, Cooney had been a debater and a member of the Choral Society. The Niall Cooney Trophy for the winners of a debate which had been held annually on EngDay, was introduced in memory of him.

A plaque which lies in memory of Niall Cooney and Conor O'Keeffe, students of the 2001 Class of Mechanical Engineering.

The memory of UCD student Julie Ryan is commemorated by a plaque on the N11 flyover outside the main entrance of UCD. She is remembered simply and affectionately with the words ‘Blithe Spirit’, in reference to the poem, To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

A plaque commemorating the poet and political activist, Charles Patrick Donnelly was unveiled in the Newman Building on the evening of the 71st anniversary of his death. The plaque bears the words: “Even the olives are bleeding...”, which he remarked in the lull of machine gun fire shortly before he was shot and killed. Donnelly, a graduate of Logic, History, English and the Irish language, had fought in the Spanish Civil War and died on 27th February 1937 in the Battle of Jarama, near Madrid. He was 22 years old when he was killed. In April 2008, the UCD branch of Labour Youth was named in honour of Charles Donnelly.

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