History of RCPI

RCPI Charter

Spanning over 360 years of history

Here you can read about the history of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, from our foundation in 1654 to the present day.

1654 - 1700

The Fraternity of Physicians of Trinity Hall was founded by Dr John Stearne, Professor of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin, to improve the practice of medicine in Ireland.


The College of Physicians in Dublin is established by Royal Charter granted by King Charles II. Under the Charter no person can practice medicine within a seven mile radius of Dublin unless licensed by the College. The Charter named the first 14 Fellows of the College, and confirmed Stearne as President for life.

1667 - 28 June

A Grant of Arms was made to the new College. The arms show the celestial hand descending out of a cloud to take the pulse of the temporal hand, over the Irish harp. The motto Ratione et Experientia (reason and experience) is also granted. A version of these arms and motto remains in use to this day.

1667 - 16 August

RCPI Charter

A second Royal Charter is granted by King William and Queen Mary, the powers of the College to grant licenses is extended to cover the whole Kingdom of Ireland; the College also has the power to examine midwives and Apothecaries. The College is renamed the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland, and Patrick Dun is appointed President. The 1692 Charter, although heavily modified, is still the governing document of RCPI to this day.


1700 - 1750

Sir Patrick Dun, 13 times President of the College, died on 24 May. In his will, Dun left his substantial property in trust for his wife during her life and, on her death, to the College. The funds were to be used to establish a Professorship, and became an important source of income for the College into the 19th century.


Duns Library

Dun’s personal library was transferred to the College. This forms the core of the College’s own library, which is still called Dun’s Library.


1750 - 1800

The School of Physic Act is passed, settling the dispute over Dun’s estates. Three King’s Professors are to be appointed at a fixed salary, with a fourth Professor of Midwifery to follow. The rest of the income from the estate was to go towards establishing a hospital, to be called Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital.


1800 - 1850

The foundation stone of the new Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital on Artichoke Road (now Grand Canal Street) was laid. The hospital opened in 1808 and in 1812 the College was given a meeting room in the new hospital.


College President William Stokes commissioned his friend, the artist Sir Frederick William Burton, to design a mace for the College, made by West & Son in Irish silver.


1850 - 1900

The Medical Act was passed, introducing registration of medical practitioners for the first time. Under the Act, the College was named as one of the recognised awarding bodies for medical qualifications.


The College bought the premises of the Kildare Street Club for £5,000.

11 November: A fire destroyed the new premises before the College could move in, but an insurance payout of £6,000 was received and was put towards the construction of a new building.

1860 - 1 July

The College’s new home at 6 Kildare Street, designed by William Murray Jr. was complete.


The building at 6 Kildare Street was extended to include the former racquet court of the Kildare Street Club, now the Corrigan Hall.


The College took advantage of the Enabling Act, which allowed colleges to decide if they would admit women to medicine. Elizabeth Louisa Walker Dunbar became the first woman Licentiate of RCPI, and the first woman to be allowed to practice medicine in the British Isles.


In response to the growing number of medics in Ireland, the College introduced the order of Membership of the College, as a step between Licentiateship and Fellowship.


The Irish Conjoint Board was established between the College and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). The Board awarded the joint licentiates of the two colleges, which meet the terms of the 1886 Medical Act.


Letters Patents were granted by Queen Victoria, changing the name of the College to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.


1900 - 1950

Dáil chamber

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (Adaptation of Charter) Order was passed to make RCPI’s Charter valid under the laws of the new Irish State.


1950 - 2000

ICHMT crest
The Irish Committee on Higher Medical Training was founded to oversee the specialist training of Irish doctors.


Special Membership exams were introduced to allow senior medics not involved in RCPI to be fast-tracked to Fellowship.


The Faculty of Occupational Medicine and Faculty of Public Health Medicine (originally Faculty of Community Medicine) were founded.


Trainees at Conferral ceremony

Collegiate Membership was established to give Members greater involvement in the running of RCPI.


Dr Brian Alton was appointed first Director of Education. RCPI develops its postgraduate education programme.


The Faculty of Pathology was founded.


Faculty of Paediatrics crest
The Faculty of Paediatrics was founded.


An MRCPI exam is held outside of Ireland for the first time.


Doctor with nursing student

The Higher Specialist Training programme was launched in five specialities.


2000 - Present

RCPI and RCSI established a joint Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine.


No 6 Kildare Street stairwell

6 Kildare Street undergoes extensive restoration and refurbishment, and opens as a conference and events centre.

2003 - June

Leo Kearns

RCPI holds an intensive review of the structures and by-laws of the College, resulting in the reorganisation of its corporate functions and the appointment of Leo Kearns as the first CEO.


RCPI’s Public Meeting Series was established to provide a forum where expert advice and medical knowledge can be made available to the public.


Doctors on ward
RCPI and the Heath Service Executive (HSE) start developing Clinical Care Programmes, to develop and implement models of best practice in clinical care in Ireland.


RCPI’s Heritage Centre was established to raise awareness of RCPI’s invaluable library, archives and historic items, and to promote public engagement with medical history and humanities.


Irish roadway

RCPI and the Road Safety Authority of Ireland establish the National Programme Office for Traffic Medicine.


RCPI and HSE establish the Equals Initiative to donate good quality medical equipment to hospitals in Zambia.


Doctor working on computer.

Computer Based Testing is used for the MRCPI General Medicine Exam Part 1 for the first time

2016 - January

Prof Mary Horgan elected as President of the College, the first woman to hold the post

2017 - 18 October

RCPI added to the Register of Nominating Bodies for Seanad Éireann

2018 - March

RCPI’s Heritage Centre receives Full Accreditation under the Museum’s Standards Programme for Ireland run by the Heritage Council

2018 - July

Prof Frank Murray

Public Health (Alcohol) Bill passes all stages, following advocacy over a number of years by the RCPI Alcohol Policy Group and Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland.

2018 - October

The Institute of Medicine was established on 23 January 2020, becoming the training and professional body for Clinical Medicine specialties in Ireland. It was established to oversee matters relating to the specialties that were up to then governed by the Irish Committee on Higher Medical Training (ICHMT). 

2020 - January