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History of the Foundation Scholarship

Under the Foundation Charter of the University of Dublin, Trinity College, of 1592, Scholars formed part of the Body Corporate (three Scholars were named in the charter). Until 1609 there were about 51 Scholars at any one time. The figure of seventy was permanently fixed in the charter of Charles I in 1637, at which point Trinity Monday was appointed as the day when all future elections to Fellowship and Scholarship would be announced (at this time it was strictly the Monday after the feast of the Holy Trinity).[1]Up to this point all undergraduates were Scholars, but soon after 1637 the practice of admitting students other than Scholars commenced.[2]

Until 1856 the examination was confined to the Classics. The course comprised all classical authors prescribed for the entrance examination and for the undergraduate course up to the middle of the Junior Sophister year; there was nothing new for the candidates to read, "but they had to submit to a very searching examination on the fairly lengthy list of classical texts which they were supposed by this time to have mastered".[3] The close link with the undergraduate syllabus is underlined by the refusal to admit Scholars to the Library until 1856 (a request for admission was rejected by the Board in 1842 on grounds that Scholars should stick to their prescribed books and not indulge in "those desultory habits" that admission to an extensive library would encourage[4]). During the second half of the nineteenth century the examination was gradually extended to other disciplines.

There is no doubt that the concept of Scholarship is one of the most highly valued traditions of the College. Many of the College's most distinguished alumni were elected Scholars (including Samuel Beckett) and the Scholars' Dinner on Trinity Monday, to which "Scholars of the Decades" are invited, forms one the major events in the College calendar. A Scholarship at Trinity College remains the most prestigious undergraduate award in the country, an award that has undoubtedly helped to bind many outstanding graduates to the College for life. A principal aim of the College has always been the pursuit of excellence: one of the most tangible demonstrations of this is the institution of Scholarship.

R.B.McDowell and D.A.Webb, Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952, An academic history (Cambridge 1982), 3.  J.V.Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin 1992), 3.
Webb and McDowell, 3
Webb and McDowell, 121
Webb and McDowell, 542