The university became the first university in Ireland that could grant degrees to women on a par with those granted to men
- On 22 October 1884, it granted its first degree to a woman. Charlotte M. Taylor was conferred with a Bachelor of Music;
- In 1888 Letitia Alice Walkington became the first woman in Great Britain or Ireland to receive a degree of Bachelor of Laws;
- Margaret Cousins studied music at the RUI in Dublin, graduating in 1902;
- Éamon de Valera – studied Mathematics at the RUI graduating in 1904;
- Douglas Hyde was among the honorary degree recipients. He was awarded a DLitt in 1906.
Examinations at the Royal University of Ireland (RUI) were opened to candidates irrespective of attendance at college lectures. When the Queen's University of Ireland dissolved in 1882, the graduates, professors, students and colleges transferred to the RUI but no special status was accorded to the colleges of the former Queen's University. Among the educational institutions presenting presented students for examinations as well, were:
- Magee College, Londonderry
- University College, Dublin,
- Cecilia Street Medical School, Dublin,
- St. Patrick's College aka Maynooth College, Co. Kildare
- Blackrock College aka The French College, Co. Dublin
- Carlow College,
- Holy Cross College (aka Clonliffe College)
- and a number of other Catholic seminaries.
External students of non-approved colleges could also sit the RUI exams (and many did so) but at a disadvantage to the "designated colleges" above (whose professors were part of the university). Many schools, including convent schools, also prepared students for the examinations (including degree examinations) of the Royal University, including:
- Dominican College, Eccles St, Dublin;
- Alexandra College, Dublin;
- Loreto College, St Stephen's Green, Dublin;
- Methodist College, Belfast;
- High School for Girls, Derry;
- St Columb's College, Derry;
- Mungret College, Limerick;
- Rutland School, Mountjoy Square, Dublin;
- Dominican College, Sion Hill, Dublin;
- St. Angela's College, Cork;
- St Louis's, Monaghan;
- Presentation College, Cork;
- Christian Brothers College, Cork;
- Rochelle College, Cork.
The first chancellor was the Irish chemist Robert Kane, who was succeeded by:
- From 1885 William Monsell, 1st Baron Emly
- From 1894 Reginald Brabazon 12th Earl of Meath
- From 1906 Bernard Edward Barnaby Fitzpatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown of Upper Ossory
On 31 October 1909 the Royal University was dissolved under the Irish Universities Act 1908, which provided for the transfer of graduates, staff and students to one or the other of these new universities:
- the National University of Ireland and
- Queen's University Belfast took.
In 1909, the final conferring of 350 students of the Royal University of Ireland was marred by demonstrations in favour of the Irish Language being compulsory for the new National University.