There are two separate universities on the Maynooth campus in County Kildare, eighteen kilometers from Dublin: Saint Patrick's College, Maynooth, the national seminary for the training of priests, is a Pontifical University; the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, was established by an act of the Irish parliament in 1997.
The Royal College of Saint Patrick at Maynooth was founded by an act of Parliament in 1795 during a brief period when the interests of a liberal Dublin Castle administration and the Irish Catholic bishops coincided. In the 1790s both the government and the Catholic bishops feared that seminarians traveling to the Continent to be educated would be infected by democratic principles. In the nineteenth century, state funding of Maynooth was regularly attacked in Parliament by Protestant evangelicals as a "national sin." When the prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, raised the Maynooth grant in 1845, it almost split his own party. The grant was removed when the Established Church was disestablished in 1869.
Maynooth has functioned as a national seminary since its foundation, and more than 11,000 priests have been ordained there, mainly for Irish dioceses, though also for overseas missions. Pontifical-university status was not granted to Maynooth until 1896. In 1910 the College became a recognized college of the new National University of Ireland. In 1966 its doors were opened to lay students, including women, for the first time.
Since then the number of seminarians has dramatically declined while the number of lay students has equally dramatically increased. In 1997 the secular faculties were legally separated from Saint Patrick's College under a new university arrangement. The seminary suffered in the general decline in the standing of the Catholic Church in Ireland at the turn of the twenty-first century. In the popular mind Maynooth has long been considered the corporate headquarters of the Irish Catholic Church.
SEE ALSO Trinity College
Corish, Patrick J. Maynooth College, 1795–1995. 1995.
Healy, John. Maynooth College: Its Centenary History. 1895.
J. A. Cannon