Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 July 2009
In 1547, in one of the earliest of what was to be a long sequence of proposals arguing for the establishment of a university in Ireland, Archbishop George Browne suggested that the archbishop and the mayor of Dublin should together contribute to the expense of founding a university for the sake of serving the ‘common good’. Generally passed over in accounts of the prehistory of Trinity College, Dublin, in favour of political, administrative or religious themes, Browne's phrase concerning the ‘common good’ is nonetheless laden with significance. The idea that, beyond its narrow seminarian functions, a university should serve the interests of the broader community was more than cant. In fact, when viewed against the broader canvas of early modern cultural history, it can be shown to have been a sincere and profound commitment in the foundation of universities not only in Ireland but also in early modern Europe as a whole.
The idea that the university should care for the interests of its extramural community surfaces in several of the proposals put forward in Ireland from the 1540s onwards. But it is highlighted in one particular memorandum which itself arose from a particular community, the municipality of Dublin. John Ussher, alderman of Dublin and a decidedly Protestant member of the civic establishment, was concerned to make the values of his co-religionists the norms for all in the interest of shaping a new society.