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History and heritage

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Celebrating 175 Years

2020 marked a special anniversary year for Queen's.

It was 175 years since the establishment of the Queen's Colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway, and the beginning of our history as a university.

Since 1845, our world-leading researchers, pioneering students and inspirational alumni have been making a difference to society in Belfast and across the world.

View a recording from our virtual celebration event, and hear stories of Queen's contribution through the years via this 175th anniversary website and podcasts.

Queen's at 175

Queen’s University Belfast was founded by Royal Charter in 1845.

Founded by Queen Victoria, the Queen's University in Ireland, was designed to be a non-denominational alternative to Trinity College Dublin which was controlled by the Anglican Church.

The University was made up of three Queen's Colleges - in Cork, Galway and Belfast. Although it was the first University in the north of Ireland, Queen's drew on a tradition of learning which goes back to 1810 and the foundation of the Belfast Academical Institution.

Its collegiate department, which provided University-style education, closed with the establishment of Queen's and four of its professors and many of its students transferred to the new college.

The most significant date in the early years of the University's life was 1908 when the three Queen's Colleges, and the Royal University (which replaced the Queen's University in Ireland in 1879), were dissolved and replaced by the Queen's University of Belfast and the National University of Ireland.

As an independent institution, governed by its own Senate, Queen's flourished. Increasing student numbers and new staff were accommodated in a number of new buildings and the academic programme increased in range. Arts, Science, Law and Medicine were supplemented by Faculties of Commerce, Applied Science and Technology, Agriculture, and Theology.

Today, Queen's is one of the leading universities in the UK and Ireland, providing world-class education underpinned by world-class research.

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Lanyon 1949-lpr
The magnificent main building was designed in 1849 by Sir Charles Lanyon.

He was also responsible for designing other Belfast landmarks such as Belfast Castle, Crumlin Road Gaol and the Customs House.

Since then, the University estate has grown to more than 300 buildings - many of them listed for their architectural importance.

QUB 1930-lpr
From the beginning, Queen’s has enjoyed strong links with the city of Belfast.

They even share a motto - Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus: "What shall we give in return for so much?"

first grad
The first intake to Queen's was just 90 students.

In 1909 there were around 600 students, mostly drawn from the historic nine counties of Ulster.

Today there are approximately 23,000 from the UK and Ireland and more than 80 other countries.

Thomas Hamilton-lpr
Rev Thomas Hamilton, a Presbyterian Minister and academic, was Queen's first official Vice-Chancellor.

Hamilton was an accomplished fundraiser who guided the university through a period of change and expansion. He launched a major campaign urging the Government to increase its grant to Queen's, and he appealed to the public for endowments. Some things never change.

The young university continued to expand and develop under the vice-chancellorships of classicist Sir Richard Winn Livingstone, political economist Sir Frederick Ogilvie and historian Sir David Keir, while Sir Eric Ashby - later Lord Ashby - played a major role in ensuring Queen's reputation on the national stage.

Dr Michael Grant, a renowned classicist, was chosen to follow Ashby. He was succeeded by physicist Sir Arthur Vick, described as one of the most able administrators to hold the post. Sir Arthur was followed by Sir Peter Froggatt who guided the University with ability, good humour and integrity through a period of great financial upheaval for the higher education sector.

He was followed by Sir Gordon Beveridge, who led Queen's during one of the most challenging periods in its history. By the time of his retirement in 1997 Queen's was in a healthy financial position, and had developed and enhanced its commitment to equality issues, becoming an exemplar in this field.

His successor was the visionary Canadian, Professor Sir George Bain. Under his leadership, the University implemented far-reaching restructuring and investment programmes and initiated the Campaign for Queen's - the most ambitious fundraising exercise in the University’s history.

He was followed by Professor Sir Peter Gregson, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who led the University into the Russell Group of the UK’s top 20 research-intensive universities in 2006 and to the title of UK Entrepreneurial University of the Year in 2009. He has also led the development of formal strategic international partnerships between Queen’s and leading universities around the world, notably in the United States, India, Malaysia and China.

He was followed by Professor Patrick Johnston. Professor Johnston joined Queen’s in 1996 as Professor of Oncology, later leading the establishment of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and becoming its Director. Prior to taking up his post of President and Vice-Chancellor, he was Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. His own research focus over 25 years was on the understanding of mechanisms of drug resistance to therapeutic agents.

The next President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast will be Professor Ian Greer. Professor Greer has an international reputation of academic excellence and has held major strategic and leadership roles in higher education for some 25 years, most recently at The University of Manchester and at the University of Liverpool.

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A major Queen’s benefactor was the distinguished Belfast physician Sir William Whitla.

The Sir William Whitla Hall opened in 1949 and his former home at Lennoxvale is the residence of the Vice-Chancellor.

Tyrone Guthrie
Chancellors of Queen’s have included the theatrical producer Sir Tyrone Guthrie.

More recently Senator George Mitchell, key figure in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, held the position.

Seamus Heaney with his portrait
World renowned poet and Queen's alumnus Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

Northern Ireland’s former First Minister and Queen's graduate, Lord Trimble, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.


At Queen’s, we are proud of our connections to the Royal Family and their support for the University since the Queen’s Colleges were formally brought into existence on 30 December 1845 and named in honour of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.

Our historic campus
Over 100 listed buildings