William Watts: A Memoir

Provost Trinity College Dublin

By: William Watts

Publication Date: May 2008


It is surprising that this is the first autobiography by a former Provost of Trinity College Dublin since it was founded in 1592. William Watts was elected Provost in 1981 and served his ten year term until 1991.

This was a period of extraordinary development for the College and for university education in Ireland. In answer to a question on his policy during his election campaign he said it was to get ‘as much money together as I can and go like hell’. It was a statement of a man who was more a pragmatist than a man with a grand vision, who thought to seize opportunities as they arose. How he seized those opportunities or created them is a large part of the book. It gives a fascinating internal account of the development of a major world-class university both as a research and a teaching institution.

This is a story of success, a modern morality tale in which strong principles, common sense and a commitment to public service prevail, but only through the agency of prodigiously hard work. From the foundation of the Central Admissions Office to the resolution of the problems of the private hospitals, the memoir quietly records the cutting of a succession of Gordian knots, throwing light into dark corners on the way. And, perhaps most notably and instructively, it reveals how, amidst the plethora of public duties and concerns, Watts found time to continue to indulge the passion for investigating lake-beds for evidence of past climate change that has given him an international reputation in Quaternary Studies.’ – from the Foreword by Aidan Clarke.

The book will be of interest to all in TCD and in the world of higher education in Ireland.


WILLIAM WATTS was Provost of TCD from 1981 to 1991. Prior to this he was Professor of Botany from 1965. Born in Upper Mayor Street, East Wall, in Dublin he spent his childhood in Athy, Co. Kildare, attending the Model School. His secondary education was at St. Andrew’s College in Dublin. He holds first class degrees in Modern Languages and in Natural Sciences from TCD, where, apart from a period in Hull and as a visiting professor in American universities, he has spent his career. His scientific interests have been in the use of fossil pollen and seeds to reconstruct climate and vegetation cover over the past 2 million years. In addition to his academic and administrative concerns at Trinity College, he was also very active in a wide variety of other institutions. He was President of the Royal Irish Academy, a member of the Board of several Dublin hospitals, Chairman of An Taisce, Chairman of Fota Trust etc etc.



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Weight 1 kg
Dimensions 240 × 165 mm
Publication Date

May 2008