A Timeline of the Queen’s Story
Queen’s is one of the UK and Ireland’s leading universities and continues to grow its global reputation for teaching and research.
The ninth oldest university in the UK, the beautiful campus symbolises both the rich history and academic heritage of Queen’s. Founded in 1845, Queen’s has grown from a small cohort of students to a thriving multi-cultural community of over 4,200 staff and 24,000 students.
Read a short blog on the foundation and early years of Queen's College Belfast from 1845-1850 or watch the timeline video here.
Queen’s University opened in 1849 as Queen’s College Belfast, four years after the Irish Colleges Act established three different colleges in Ireland, in Belfast, Cork and Galway.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among the first visitors to the Queen’s College building, now known as the Lanyon Building. Charles Lanyon, the architect appointed to design the college, based the design on Magdalen College in Oxford.
The first society
The establishment of three faculties, Arts, Medicine and Law, was quickly followed by the first University society, The Literary and Scientific Society (‘The Literific’).
First campus expansion
Tight government budgets restricted campus expansion for almost two decades until the construction of the new library (now The Graduate School) began in 1866, led by architect William Henry Lynn. A campus gymnasium was erected in 1873 and the first Chemical and Pharmaceutical Laboratories opened in 1894.
Students perform gymnastics outside the Lanyon building
Bazaar to raise funds
A bazaar was held in 1894 to raise funds for a Queen’s College Students’ Union building. The event was a great financial success and also a social highlight attended by members of the local aristocracy who also ran their own stalls. In 1896, a stone laying ceremony took place for the new Students’ Union.
Thought to be a photograph of Graduation in 1886, which included eight women.
Professors included renowned engineer and physicist James Thomson, who worked at Queen’s until 1873. His notable advances in water wheels, water pumps and turbines, and in regelation (the effect of pressure on the freezing point of water) were overshadowed by the reputation of his brother, Lord Kelvin - the scientist who first introduced absolute zero temperature.
The dawn of student life
The Students’ Representative Council was founded in 1900 to enable students to negotiate with University authorities and to officially recognise the first ten clubs and societies, including six sports clubs and the Students’ Union.
A budget to build
The establishment of the Betterment Fund in 1901 provided the University the means to erect many new buildings and employ new staff, including adding a second story to the north cloister of the Lanyon Building.
In 1902 the Royal Commission on Irish University Education sat in Queen’s College, aimed at improving provision of higher education and advancing teaching and research. Following discussions lead by Rev Thomas Hamilton, who had served as President of Queen’s College since 1889, the Irish Universities Act of 1908 separated the old Queen’s Colleges in Cork and Galway from the Belfast college. The newly ratified Queen’s University of Belfast had autonomy from state control and granted the University governance on appointments and policies.
Birth of a global network
Rev Thomas Hamilton became the first President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University in 1908 and is credited with laying the foundations for the modern University. British diplomat Sir Robert Hart was appointed Pro-Chancellor the same year. A modernising figure in the Imperial Chinese government, he created the Chinese Post Office and laid the groundwork for modern China.
Rev Thomas Hamilton
British Universities Students’ Congress
This photograph of the British Universities Students’ Congress of 1908 includes the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sir Robert Anderson (Centre front) and the President, Rev. Dr Hamilton.
An early female graduate, Helen Waddell, was admitted to study English in 1909. A poet and playwright, her contemporaries included W. B. Yeats and Virginia Woolf. In 1884, pioneering female science student Alice Everett came first in her first year exams, while two years on, Florence Hamilton (mother of C.S. Lewis) came fourth in her second year.
A ‘church’ of study
The Old Library was extended by the original architect William Henry Lynn between 1912 and 1914 as the need for additional space for students and staff grew. Working in his signature neo-gothic style, it’s thought the ecclesiastical architect was giving the ‘Godless’ non-denominational college a church.
A leader in medicine
In 1914, Irish physician and politician William Whitla was appointed Pro-Chancellor. Though his best-selling medical compilation, Dictionary of Treatment (1892), was as omnipresent as the bible during his lifetime, his name became more widely recognised after his death – following a generous will donation to the University, including his home at Lennoxvale.
A military hospital
During World War I, part of the University grounds were used as a military hospital. The war brought a significant increase in student numbers, from 584 in 1914 to 888 in 1918 – 60 per cent of whom were medical students.
The first student halls
In 1920, the University acquired the original Queen’s Elms for conversion into a men’s hall of residence.
Growth of Faculties and research
The Faculty of Applied Science and Technology was established in 1921, followed by the introduction of agricultural research the following year.
Remembering the fallen
In 1923, a war memorial designed by Sir Thomas Brock was erected carrying the names of 254 Queen’s alumni who died during the war, including 55 doctors and medical students.
In 1926, the Faculty of Theology was established, while the School of Dentistry was developed within the Faculty of Medicine.
Winston Churchill receives an honorary doctorate
In 1926 Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, received an honorary doctorate and the students gave him a ‘ragging’ on University Road to celebrate. He was presented with a puddy hat, a clay pipe, and a shillelagh. A large copy of this photograph hangs on a wall in Blenheim Palace.
Female Students’ Hall opened
In 1927, a women’s Students’ Hall was established in 20-21 University Square, now the site of the Queen’s Film Theatre.
First female lectureship
In 1931, Mary Johnstone Lynn, a Queen’s graduate of 1912, was appointed the first female to a permanent lectureship in botany.
Women in sport
In 1932 a women’s pavilion was erected at Cherryvale playing fields.
Sir David Keir facilitates an appeal for the Centenary Endowment Fund to raise £250,000 towards construction.
Alexander Fleming visits Queen’s
Alexander Fleming (Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine) visits the University to give the Robert Campbell Oration to the Ulster Medical Society.
Crops on campus
During the war years, vegetables were grown in the Quad to aid the war effort.
In 1945, a stained glass window was installed in the Black & White Hall, designed by JE Nuttgens. By 1949, construction of the Whitla Hall was completed.
Philip Larkin appointed sub-librarian
In 1950, Philip Larkin was appointed sub-librarian at Queen’s.
Queen Elizabeth II visits after Coronation
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II visits Queen’s accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh shortly after the Coronation.
Royal Visit 1953, Photo courtesy of The Belfast Telegraph
The Gown established
1955, Queen’s Students’ Union established the longest-running student publication in UK, The Gown.
The old Students' Union building
- By 1950, 2700 students were enrolled at Queen’s
World-renowned engineering graduate, Peter Rice
In 1956, Peter Rice, structural engineer of worldwide importance, graduated. He was the lead engineer on some of the world’s most innovative buildings, including Sydney Opera House, the Lloyd’s of London building and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
Gaelic football team win Sigerson Cup
In 1958, the Queen's University Gaelic football team won the Sigerson Cup for the first time, the trophy for the premier Gaelic football championship among Higher Education institutions in Ireland.
Celebrations mark founding of University
In 1959, Golden Jubilee celebrations were held to mark the founding of the University; the same year a large-scale building programme with new university facilities in medicine, engineering and science was implemented.
Queen’s Festival inaugurated
The Queen’s Festival (now the Belfast International Arts Festival) was inaugurated by Michael Emmerson in 1962. Emmerson – who went on to be appointed Professional Director of the Festival – was seen as an exotic figure around campus, famed for his sandals and floppy hat.
Phil Coulter starts the Glee Club
Another memorable development in the early 60s was the emergence of the Glee Club - one of the founders was a musician from Derry~Londonderry called Phil Coulter.
Queen Mother opens new Physics Building
In 1962, almost a decade after the Queen’s visit, the Queen Mother opened the new Physics Building.
The Physics building in the 1960s
- 3,570 students enrolled
By the early 60s, 3,570 students were enrolled at the University – 3,001 full-time, 569 part-time.
John Stewart Bell publishes Bell’s Theorem
‘Ireland’s Einstein’ John Stewart Bell, who graduated from Queen’s with a BSc in Experimental Physics and a BSc in Mathematical Physics in successive years - published Bell’s Theorem in 1964, a theorem which physicists, philosophers and historians now consider to be one of the most significant developments in quantum theory. It resolved a decades-old dispute which ultimately demonstrated that Einstein’s views on quantum mechanics were incorrect.
John Stewart Bell
Work on the library tower
In 1964, John McGeagh began to work on the library tower block.
Professor Frank Pantridge invents the portable defibrillator
In 1965, Queen’s graduate and an eminent physician and cardiologist transformed emergency medicine and paramedic services with the invention of the world’s first portable defibrillator.
Painting of Professor Frank Pantridge
Ashby Building opens
In 1966, the Ashby Building opened – the same year that Queen Elizabeth II opened the Social Sciences Building.
The Queen's visit in 1966
New Students’ Union opens
In 1967, the new Students’ Union Building opened.
Queen’s Quarter expands
In 1968, the Medical Biology Centre, and Science Library were built.
Medical Biology Centre
Philip Larkin conferred Doctor of Literature
In 1969, a Doctor of Literature was conferred on Philip Larkin.
Physical Education Centre Opened
In 1971, the PEC Building opened providing sport and leisure facilities to students.
- 6,836 students enrolled
Stewart Parker ‘most promising playwright’
Queen’s graduate Stewart Parker won the Evening Standard Award for most promising playwright.
University Grants Committee visits Queen’s
In 1972, the University Grants Committee visited Queen’s.
Sir Peter Froggatt elected Vice-Chancellor
In 1976, British doctor and academic Sir Peter Froggatt was elected as President and Vice-Chancellor.
Painting of Sir Peter Froggatt
Queen’s wins University Challenge
In 1981, a team from Queen’s won University Challenge.
Sir Rowland Wright elected as Chancellor
In 1984, British Industrialist Sir Rowland Wright was elected as Chancellor.
Professor Sir David Bates awarded honorary degree
Professor Sir David Bates, Northern Irish mathematician and physicist, was awarded an honorary degree in 1984.
Painting of Professor Sir David Bates
Council Chamber and Canada Room improved
The year 1986 saw the completion of major improvement scheme to the Council Chamber and Canada Room.
Professor Mollie McGeown awarded honorary degree
In 1991, Professor Mollie McGeown, a Queen's graduate and a pioneer in dialysis and kidney transplantation, was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of the National Health Service, she was named as one of the 50 women who had contributed most to the success of the NHS.
Professor Mollie McGeown
Mary McAleese - the University’s first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor
Mary graduated from the School of Law in 1973 and became the University’s first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor in 1994. She went on to serve as the eighth President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011
Seamus Heaney awarded Nobel Prize in Literature
In 1995, Queen’s alumnus Seamus Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Seamus Heaney in the McClay Library, which he described as a 'starship for scholars'
Welcome Centre is established
In 1995, the Welcome Centre was established in the Lanyon Building.
Senator George J Mitchell awarded an honorary degree
In 1997, Senator George J Mitchell was awarded an honorary degree. Senator Mitchell presided over the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Senator George J Mitchell
Senator George J Mitchell appointed Chancellor of Queen’s
In 1999, Senator George J Mitchell was appointed Chancellor of Queen’s.
Bill Clinton awarded honorary degree
In 2001, President William Jefferson Clinton (42nd President of the United States) awarded a Doctor of Laws honorary degree.
Statue of Galileo installed
In 2001, a statue of Galileo, by Pio Fedi, was installed in the University's central Black and White Hall.
- 16,135 students were enrolled
Dr Paul Muldoon awarded the Pulitzer Prize
In 2003, Dr Paul Muldoon, a Queen’s graduate and honorary graduate was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Dr Paul Muldoon
Sonic Arts Centre opened
In 2004, the Sonic Arts Centre and state-of-the-art sonic laboratory facility was opened by renowned composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Inside the Sonic Arts Centre
Literature and the Arts
In 2004, the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry opened and the Naughton Gallery was awarded full museum status.
ECIT opens in 2004
Queens' Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) launched in 2004, a £37M research flagship, at the heart of the Northern Ireland Science Park (now Catalyst). Professor John McCanny was responsible for the vision behind this and the creation of the Centre for Secure Information Technology, the UK’s Innovation and Knowledge Centre for Cybersecurity.
Formation of UK’s first Institute of Agri-food and Land Use
2005 saw the formation of UK’s first Institute of Agri-food and Land Use, while the International Research Centre for Experimental Physics (IRCEP) was also opened at Queen’s.
Queen’s joins the Russell Group
In 2007, Queen’s joined the prestigious Russell Group of top research-intensive UK universities.
Queen's joins the Russell Group
Dame Kelly Holmes opens the new PEC
In 2007, Dame Kelly Holmes opened the new Physical Education Centre (PEC) building.
Professor Máire O’Neill named British Female Inventor of the Year
In 2007, Queen’s Professor Máire O’Neill named British Female Inventor of the Year. At 32, she also became the youngest person to be named a Professor of Engineering at Queen’s.
Professor Máire O’Neill
In 2008, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a centenary stone, while Nelson Mandela was named the University’s Centenary Honorary Graduate.
The Queen unveils a centenary stone in 2008
Senator George J Mitchell opens Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology
In 2008, Senator George J Mitchell opened the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology.
China Queen’s College established
In 2012, China Queen’s College was established. The same year saw the formation of the Institute for Global Food Security.
China Queen’s College
Professor Patrick G Johnston becomes President and Vice-Chancellor
Professor Patrick G Johnston became President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s in 2014 until his passing in 2017
Award-winning restoration of The Graduate School
In 2015, The Graduate School was restored from the old 'Lynn library'. A state-of-the-art home for our postgraduate community, its hi-tech, vibrant spaces inspire intellectual exchange and collaboration.
The Graduate School
Peter Higgs awarded honorary degree
Peter Higgs (Higgs-Boson), a British theoretical physicist, was awarded an honorary degree.
Partnership with Dubai Healthcare City
In 2015, a partnership between Queen’s and Dubai Healthcare City/Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences was established.
Three faculty structures introduced
In 2015, the University was re-structured into three faculties: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Engineering and Physical Sciences and Medicine, Health and Life Sciences.
Lanyon Conservation Project begins
In 2017, important conservation and restoration work began on the iconic Lanyon building. This involved the complete refurbishment and replacement of stone, brickwork, windows and leadwork, ensuring it is preserved and maintained for future generations.
Restoration to the highly intricate stonework on the Lanyon Building
New Computer Science Building opens in 2017
An iconic new landmark building with world-class IT facilities, the new Computer Science building opened, delivering a stimulating environment for staff and students. The colourful exterior boasts glass fins which represent digital code – a main mathematical aspect of computer science.
New Student Centre Approved
In 2019, plans for a new Student Centre at Queen’s were approved.
Secretary Hillary Clinton appointed Chancellor
In January 2020, Hillary Clinton became the University’s 11th and first female Chancellor.
Awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize
Queen's was awarded the prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for the seventh time, for its work on Shared Education. These prizes recognise the outstanding contribution that a university or college has made to the United Kingdom. The Centre for Shared Education at Queen’s has made a considerable impact in Northern Ireland and beyond, with its core pillars of education policy and practice being adopted in Northern Ireland and by educators and policymakers in other divided societies across the world.
The Vice-Chancellor receiving the award at Buckingham Palace
- There are currently more than 24,000 students enrolled at Queen’s