The Royal Irish Academy (RIA) (Irish: Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann), based in Dublin, is an all-Ireland, independent, academic body that promotes study and excellence in the sciences, humanities and social sciences. It is one of Ireland’s premier learned societies and cultural institutions and currently has around 420 Members, elected in recognition of their academic achievements. The Academy was established in 1785 and granted royal charter in 1786. Until the late 19th century it was also the owner of the main national collection of Irish antiquities. It presented its collection of archaeological artefacts and similar items, which included such famous pieces as the Tara Brooch, to what is now the National Museum of Ireland, but retains its very significant collection of manuscripts.
The Academy has issued the following mission statement:
The Royal Irish Academy, the academy for the sciences and humanities for the whole of Ireland will vigorously promote excellence in scholarship, recognise achievements in learning, direct research programmes and undertake its own research projects, particularly in areas relating to Ireland and its heritage.
It will reflect upon, advise on and contribute to public debate and public policy formation on issues of major interest in science, technology and culture.
It will continue to offer an independent forum to Irish scholars, it will provide a network of support for scholarly disciplines through its network of academy committees, it will maintain and enhance its unique library, it will publish scholarly papers and it will represent the world of Irish learning internationally.
Election to Membership of the Royal Irish Academy is a public recognition of academic excellence. It is the highest academic honour in Ireland. Those elected are entitled to use the designation “MRIA” after their name. The criterion for election to Membership is a significant contribution to scholarly research as shown in the candidate’s published academic work. To be elected, a candidate has to be proposed and recommended by five Members. Presently, twenty Members are elected each year, equally divided between the sciences and humanities. Membership is open only to those resident in Ireland.
Honorary Membership can be awarded to persons who have made outstanding contribution to their academic discipline, but who are normally resident outside the island of Ireland. At least two existing Members must propose and recommend a candidate for Honorary Membership. Honorary members are entitled to use the designation “Hon. MRIA” after their name.
Francis Beaufort, hydrographer and originator of the Beaufort Wind Scale
J.P. Beddy, public servant
Sir William Betham (1779–1853), Ulster King of Arms 1820–1853
Frederick Boland, diplomat
Andrew Nicholas Bonaparte Wyse, civil servant
Hugh Carleton, 1st Viscount Carleton, eminent judge and politician.
Arthur Cox, solicitor
Éamon de Valera, Taoiseach 1932–1948; 1951–1954; 1957–1959 and President of Ireland 1959–1973
Samuel Ferguson (1810–1886)
Garret FitzGerald, Taoiseach 1981–1982 and 1982–1987
James Gandon, architect
Henry Grattan, politician
Seamus Heaney (1939–2013), poet, Nobel laureate
William Rowan Hamilton, mathematician
Walter Heitler, physicist
Thomas Dix Hincks (1767–1857) orientalist and naturalist
Richard Kirwan, chemist, meteorologist, and mineralogist
Seán Lemass, Taoiseach 1959–1966
F. S. L. Lyons, historian
Gearóid Mac Eoin, linguist and historian, member since 1975.
Eoin MacNeill, politician and historian
William Hunter McCrea, astronomer
P G (Gerry) McKenna, Biomedical Scientist
Frank Mitchell, historian
Michael Morris, 3rd Baron Killanin and President of the International Olympic Committee
Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, Attorney General 1946–1948, 1951–1953 and President of Ireland 1974–1976
Fergus O’Rourke Zoologist
John O’Donovan (1806–1861), Irish language scholar and place-name expert
William Reeves (1815–1892), antiquarian and bishop, President of the Academy in 1891
Erwin Schrödinger (1931), Nobel physics laureate
Robert William Smith (1807–1873), surgeon and pathologist
James Henthorn Todd (1805–1869), biblical scholar, educator, and Irish historian
Ernest T.S. Walton (1935), Nobel physics laureate
Robert Anthony Welch, author, educator, and literary historian
James Dooge, engineer, Government Minister, architect of the European Union. (President of the RIA 1986–1990)
Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837–1923), 1910 Nobel Prize in physics.
Isaac Weld (1774–1856), topographical author
William Wilde, polymath and father of the playwright, Oscar Wilde
The Academy currently manages a number of high-profile research projects in the sciences and humanities.
The Academy is one of the longest-established publishers in Ireland, beginning in 1787. The Academy currently publishes six journals, including Ériu. The Academy’s research projects also regularly publish the Irish Historic Towns Atlas series, the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Foclóir na nua-Ghaeilge, the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources, and the New Survey of Clare Island.
The Academy is committed to publishing work which not only influences scholarship, but also the wider community, for example Flashes of Brilliance by Dick Ahlstrom, and Judging Dev by Diarmaid Ferriter. Both of these publications have been accompanied by either a television or a radio series.
The Academy Library holds the largest collection of Old Irish manuscripts in the world. It is an important research centre for studies covering Irish history, language, archaeology and the history of Irish science .The Library is home to the sixth-century Latin psalter, the Cathach, reputedly copied by St Columcille. The Library also holds the personal library of Thomas Moore and the philological collection of Osborn J. Bergin.
During the 1950s the Academy began forming national committees, each relating to a specific discipline. Today the main focus of the Academy committees is to serve as a strategic vehicle for the disciplines they represent, and to act as a national forum, providing input into policy, research priorities and issues of public concern, such as climate change. They also organise public outreach activities, such as lectures and public interviews, and award grants for research and travel. The Academy committees are made up of both Members and non-Members, including representatives from universities, research institutions, government agencies and, where appropriate, industry.
In 1852 the Royal Irish Academy moved to its current premises at 19, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, known as “Academy House”. Built in c.1750, the building has some fine decorative plasterwork and a handsome meeting room designed in 1854 by Frederick Clarendon and now used for conferences, exhibitions and public talks. Academy House was home to many of Ireland’s finest national treasures, including the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch, until 1890 when the Academy transferred its collections to the newly established National Museum of Ireland.
The President and Council are responsible for the Academy’s general government and regulation. They are elected annually at the Stated Meeting on 16 March. The President normally serves a three-year term of office. The membership of Council is drawn from the Sciences and Humanities sections. Council formulates policies, develops and recommends candidates for membership.
The Executive Committee supports the Council in supervising the day-to-day business of the Academy. The members of the Executive Committee are the President, Senior Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Secretaries of Science and PL&A, Executive Secretary, Secretary for International Relations and a Staff Representative.
The Royal Irish Academy became a prescribed body under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and the Freedom of Information Act (Amendment) 2003, on 31 May 2006.