Albert Joseph McConnell
(b. 1903-1993)

AJ McConnell was born in Ballymena, County Antrim.1 He entered Trinity College in 1922, was elected Scholar in 1924, and graduated in mathematics and philosophy in 1926. He obtained his doctorate from the University of Rome, where he worked under Levicivita.  He returned to a lectureship in Dublin, and was elected Fellow in 1930; in the same year he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy. He published a book on tensor calculus and was joint editor of Hamilton’s works on dynamics. McConnell was appointed Provost in 1952 on the death of Ernest Henry Alton. He was much younger than either of his immediate predecessors, being only forty-eight at his appointment.2 He had long been convinced of the need for constitutional reform, and was instrumental in implementing this soon after his election as Provost.3 By appointing three junior fellows to the offices of Bursar, Senior Lecturer and Registrar, which had been open to them since 1911 but not more than one of them had been so held at any given time, the continued dominance of the senior fellows in the administration of the College was brought to an end and the Provost was in a position to institute and carry though a major programme of reform. In 1958 the long planned increase in the number of junior fellows represented on the Board was increased from two to four and the regular election of full time professors to Fellowship was agreed.4 In 1959 the life tenure of Fellowship, first instituted in 1637, was abandoned in favour of compulsory retirement at the end of the academic year in which the Fellow reached the age of seventy. A similar regulation had been declared by Council for all future professorial appointments. The category of Fellow Emeritus was thus instituted. Emeritus Fellows continue to enjoy the privileges of free Commons and rent-free accommodation but cannot exercise any voice, vote, power or authority in College or University. The traditional pattern of fellowship was also altered in 1958 when Fellows approved the opening of tutorship to non Fellows. Admitted to College in 1904, on 4 October 1967 the Board finally decided in favour of the admission of women to fellowship and foundation scholarships.5 As Fellows and Scholars on the Foundation, women became entitled to free commons and rooms in College. In 1972/3 all women became entitled to apply for rooms in College on the same terms as men. McConnell also strove successfully to bring the College out of the relative isolation it had held since independence into a more central position and a fuller participation in Irish life. 6 He was helped in this by a friendship, based partly on a common enthusiasm for mathematics, with Éamon de Valera. The Dining Hall now became the focus for a policy of more active and systematic entertainment of public figures and good relations with the state were further promoted when President Seán T. O’Kelly accepted an honorary degree in 1956.7 Although McConnell was entitled, as were his predecessors, to retain office for life, he committed himself to retire at the age of seventy, and did so in 1974 after presiding for twenty two years as Provost.8 This made his provostship the second longest, after Provost Baldwin’s, in Trinity’s history.  On retirement from the Provostship he was appointed a member of the Council of State.  

Painting Details

By Edward McGuire
Oil on canvas

  1. Anne Crookshank and David Webb, Paintings and Sculptures in Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 1990), p. 90.
  2. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), p. 154.
  3. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), pp 148-9.
  4. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), pp 167-8.
  5. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), p. 176.
  6. Anne Crookshank and David Webb, Paintings and Sculptures in Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 1990), p. 90.
  7. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), p.155.
  8. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), p.154.