Windle, Sir Bertram Alan Coghill (1858–1929), scholar, anatomist, archaeologist, and university president, was born 8 May 1858 at Mayfield, Staffordshire, England, eldest son of the Rev. Samuel Allan Windle and Sydney Katherine Windle (née Coghill). When he was four, the family moved to Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin. He was educated at Repton, England (1871–3), and then at TCD (1875–82). He pursued a brilliant medical career in Birmingham, where he became a fervent convert to catholicism and took up liberal politics, supporting home rule and land reform. He became the first full-time professor of anatomy at Queen's College, Birmingham, and was foremost in working for the establishment in 1900 of the new University of Birmingham, England's ‘first civic university’ and the prototype of many others.
Windle was something of a polymath. As well as being a distinguished anatomist, he developed a deep interest in archaeology which he was to pursue while in Cork, setting up a department of archaeology there and becoming the first professor of the subject (1910–15). He wrote and lectured on English literature (notably Shakespeare and Hardy), on anthropology, on education, and on the relationship between catholicism and science. He was a forceful and impressive academic lecturer, elegantly austere in appearance and a stern disciplinarian in approach.
From being dean of the Birmingham medical faculty, he was appointed president of QCC in 1904 through the influence of George Wyndham (qv), the chief secretary. Nationalist organs such as the Freeman's Journal objected to his appointment (defended by Douglas Hyde, qv), regarding him as an Englishman and a ‘Cawstle cawtholic’ crown hack. However, he was a follower of John Redmond (qv) and regarded himself as Irish and nationalist, believing strongly in the Gaelic League as a social and moral as well as a cultural force, though his enthusiasm was not to extend to supporting compulsory Irish for National University matriculation.
When Windle was appointed president of QCC in 1904, the college was little more than a high-quality medical school. He applied himself assiduously to the reforms of an institution that was characterised by low numbers, poor morale, meagre financing, the absence of any real university context, an unrepresentative ruling body, interference in its administration by Castle officials, continuing catholic episcopal disapproval, and general public indifference, if not hostility. Windle immediately set about improving facilities for staff and students, but dominating all other considerations was the unresolved university question, of which two aspects in particular preoccupied the Cork president: the need to change QCC's constitution so as to make it acceptable to the catholic church and the people at large, and the desirability of achieving independent university status for Cork. This was to become almost an obsession with Windle, and he orchestrated public opinion in an attempt to attain his objective.
University education in Ireland was transformed in 1908 with the establishment of the federal National University of Ireland, and of UCC as one of its constituent colleges. Windle played a central role in these developments and efficiently managed the smooth transition to the new phase in the college's history. Its future was now assured, it had a representative constitution, and it underwent a revolutionary expansion of its academic disciplines. Ecclesiastical disapproval receded, there was an impressive growth in student numbers, and Windle's own standing in college and city was greatly enhanced. He was given a knighthood in the 1912 New Year honours list.
When the Great War broke out, Windle praised John Redmond's stance and tried to get the college to back the war effort. As a member of the Irish convention (1917–18), he strove enthusiastically to promote a North–South and Anglo–Irish modus vivendi. Meanwhile he reactivated the pre-1908 agitation for an independent University of Munster at Cork, being convinced from his experience of working the federal system for ten years that UCC would never realise its potential till it was autonomous. Windle underestimated the formidable alignment of assorted opponents determined to thwart his grand scheme. Foremost among these was resurgent Sinn Féin, which was opposed to the independent university movement pending the settlement of the national question. They claimed Windle was trying to consolidate pro-British, pro-unionist control of UCC. Thus, the ‘University of Munster’ project was caught up in, and became a victim of, the Anglo–Irish struggle. Alfred O'Rahilly (qv), recently appointed professor of mathematical physics (1917–43), mobilised anti-Windle opinion for both personal and political reasons.
The British government dropped the university scheme in June 1919, and Windle's embittered resignation from the UCC presidency was more than balanced, from his standpoint, by his ready acceptance of an invitation from St Michael's Catholic College in the University of Toronto to become a philosophy professor, specialising in the relationship of science and Christian philosophy. The years that remained to him (1919–29) were happy and productive, but he came to regard his fifteen years in Cork as ‘dreadful’ and ‘wasted’. Nothwithstanding this jaundiced retrospective self-assessment, Bertram Windle must be regarded as an outstanding, energetic, creative, and visionary president of QCC/UCC. He died in Toronto, 14 May 1929.
He married first (1886) Madoline Mary Hudson (d. 1900); they had two daughters, Mary (d. 1920) – who married (1908) the writer John J. Horgan (qv) – and Nora; and one son, Laurence (d. in infancy). Windle married secondly (1901) Edith Mary Nazer. He was first cousin (on his mother's side) and close friend of the writer Edith Somerville (qv). Among his other friends were Douglas Hyde and Patrick Augustine Sheehan (qv).