Watering down Limerick

The University of Limerick has, and has had, many famous academics on its staff, but surely none more so than Persse McGarrigle, a noted expert on poet T.S. Eliot. Ah wait, I might not be able to count him, as he is a fictional character – he was one of the main characters in the wonderful novel by David Lodge, Small World. If you haven’t read it, you must do so – it holds the key to understanding academic life.

Lodge published the novel in 1984, and shortly afterwards it was serialised on BBC television. At the time Limerick already had the National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE – the other NIHE was in Glasnevin in Dublin and became DCU); but it was not yet the University of Limerick, and so Lodge was able to take liberties with the name. Maybe Ed Walsh’s enterprising and innovating university when it emerged was not wholly like its fictional namesake, but nevertheless the name needs to be maintained for the sake of both.

Not, however, if Clare County Council has its way. On March 8 the Council voted unanimously to press the university to re-name itself the University of Limerick and Clare, partly in recognition of the fact that a good deal of its expanding estate is across the River Shannon in the neighbouring county. This of course is none of my business, and in any case I hold Co Clare and its inhabitants in the highest respect, but I’m afraid I am not in favour of this idea. There is research, in fact, that has found that universities called after counties or geographical regions do not do as well as those named after towns and cities (and maybe villages, if you consider Keele University). Apparently a regional name conjures up images of rural tranquility, which is great for a postcard but doesn’t convey a sense of intellectual excitement.

The University of Limerick does have important ties with Co Clare – but maybe these can be reflected in some way other than the name.

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15 Comments on “Watering down Limerick”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Whats in a name? I am inclined to think that a rose by any other name… ‘though Warwick probably got it right by not calling itself Coventry University.
    As for DCU, well I am probably not the only one who has struggled to explain to people the differences between UCD/NUID and TCD/DU and DCU. Whats wrong with Ballymun? šŸ™‚

  2. Aoife Citizen Says:

    It is named for the city not the country, Universities named for places almost always are named for cities. Limerick continues to be the nearest city. That’s it.

  3. John Says:

    Is that what local authorities waste their time at?

    We need to amalgamate swathes of them on a regional basis — reducing the number of junketeering mickey-mouse politicians, overpaid city/county managers and their under-employed staff.

    As for renaming UL, just as soon as they call the airport Limerick-Shannon!

  4. belfield Says:

    The National University of Ireland at Limerick & the Clare side will be up for grabs any day now…

    And yes David Lodge’s novel is great fun; would put you off suggesting pair-work activity at a university event for life!

  5. Sean Says:

    In today’s world where branding has become so important, there may very well be a need to break away from the tradition of naming third level institutions after their home cities. I would like to know if anybody has any idea about the level of confusion it must play for foreign students, businesses and organisations as they try to decipher which college in Dublin is the best, the real one or indeed the one that suits them best. It really is not in the best interests of the country for us to continue with this ongoing confusion. I suggest that all of the colleges should be renamed after specific areas of activity e.g. the National College of Arts, National College of Pharmaceuticals, National College of Computing etc.and in one swoop end this terrible confusion.

    • Aoife Citizen Says:

      You think the problem with names is that they don’t indicate which college is best? You think we should name by ranking, so I would be working at the University of Dublin 1, even though it is located in Dublin 2?

      Anyway, your idea makes no sense, they are Universities.

      • Sean Says:

        In Hindsight, you are correct. The word University should of course feature in the title, but maybe there is a need to move away from including the home city’s name in the University’s official name. While I am on the subject, it is also asking what is the right size of a university? and how many universities a country should have per capita? Do we have too many? or do we have too many small ones?

  6. kevin denny Says:

    Sean: thats a good question. There are disadvantages to having huge universities of 50,000+ students but we’re not in that range so I think it is perfectly possible to expand numbers of students (if so desired) within the present set-up. The argument for not having more is that there are fixed costs, libraries, labs, administration etc so creating new universities is probably a bad use of scarce funds. Ireland is a small country so its not as if anywhere is that far from a university.
    There may also be a case for some consolidation. It wasn’t clear to me we needed 5 medical schools – given the costs of running these things. All the more surprising that we now have 6.

  7. Kieran Fagan Says:

    Prof Ed Walsh’s 2011 memoir Upstart, friends, foes and founding a university, doffs its cap to Prof David Lodge’s fictional Limerick university. The heading on chapter 13 quotes Lodge’s preface to Small World . “There are no universities in Limerick or in Darlington.” In creating the University of Limerick, Ed Walsh proved David Lodge wrong, but of course that was not his main purpose. But it makes a nice academic footnote.
    Kieran Fagan.

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