The college opened for teaching in 1849 as Queen's College, Galway with 37 professors and 91 students and a year later became a part of the Queen's University of Ireland. In 1906 Alice Perry graduated from the college, believed to be the first female engineering graduate in the world having received a first class honours degree in civil engineering. The Irish Universities Act, 1908 made this college a constituent college of the new National University of Ireland, and under a new charter the name of the college was changed to University College, Galway. The university college was given special statutory responsibility under the University College, Galway Act, 1929 in respect of the use of the Irish language as the working language of the college. The university college retained the name University College, Galway until 1997 when the Universities Act, 1997 changed the name to National University of Ireland, Galway and made the college a constituent university of the National University of Ireland.
The university is located near the centre of the city and stretches along the River Corrib. The oldest part of the university, the Quadrangle, designed by John Benjamin Keane, is a replica of Christ Church, one of the colleges at the University of Oxford. The stone from which it is built was supplied locally. Newer parts of the university sprang up in the 1970s and were designed by architects Scott Tallon Walker. The 1990s also saw considerable development including the conversion of an old factory into a student centre and sports hall.
The Sunday Times University Guide named the university as Irish University of the Year 2002-2003, 2003-2004, 2005-2006, 2006-2007
Like the other constituent universities of the National University of Ireland, the university follows the common faculty structure. The seven faculties of the university are Arts, Celtic Studies, Commerce, Engineering, Law, Medicine & Health Sciences and Science. Staff are represented by the SIPTU trade union (for academic, research, administrative and technical workers) and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (for academic workers only).
Since January 2006 St. Angela's College, Sligo has been a college of the National University of Ireland, Galway; it was previously a recognised college of the National University of Ireland. This change in the relationship will mean that students of St. Angela's College, Sligo will be registered as students of the National University of Ireland, Galway; whilst degrees and diplomas awarded will be those of the National University of Ireland
The actor Martin Sheen, who has never previously attended college, enrolled at the National University of Ireland, Galway, in 2006
The Computer Society hosts all other societies emails and websites, and have one of the largest memberships. The Film Society founded the NUI Galway student cinema. The Rotaract Society, part of the international Rotary family, hosts the annual charity fashion show, 'Socs in the City' and is the largest Rotaract club in Great Britain and Ireland. The college's Drama Society (Dramsoc) has also been long regarded as one of the most important student societies for the arts in Galway having played a part in the formation of Macnas, Druid Theatre Company and The Galway Arts Festival.
In February the university hosts annually an on-campus arts festival entitled 'Múscailt' (meaning to awake/inspire/celebrate. The annual festival showcases the emerging artists of the university. Almost every society on campus has input. Various shows, concerts and exhibitions are displayed throughout the college. The week often features various inter-varsity or on-campus competitions and award ceremonies.
The ALIVE Programme - A Learning Initiative and the Volunteering Experience - was established in 2003 by the National University of Ireland, Galway to harness, acknowledge and support the contribution that its students make by volunteering. The programme draws on a strong tradition of student engagement both on and off campus and assists students who wish to actively volunteer while developing tangible and transferable skills alongside practical volunteering experiences.
Julian Gough published his book, Juno & Juliet, in 2001. The title characters are students attending their first year at NUI, Galway. As both are students in Classics, references are made to areas on campus & within the city; such as the library, quad, Salmon Weir bridge, Eyre Square, GBC Coffee, and more.