Trinity College Dublin is seeking public opinion on what to do with stolen skulls and library named after slave owners

Trinity College Dublin faces some uncomfortable legacies from its 430-year history, including the skull robbery from the island of Inishbofin and a library named after a slave owner.

The university has initiated a formal process to review its historical legacy since its founding in 1592 through its Trinity Legacies Review Working Group, which is made up of representatives of Trinity student body, unions and academics.

The two questions to be addressed first are the future of the human remains from Inishbofin, Co. Galway held at the University and the name of the Berkeley Library.

Universities around the world are dropping the names of building slave owners, and now Trinity is inviting proposals on whether Berkeley should be renamed.

Trinity students have filed a request for attribution, but dropping Berkeley isn’t a foregone conclusion, as a faction within Trinity is interested in keeping it and explaining the story.

The 13 Inishbofin skulls were removed from a recess in a church wall on the island in 1890 by two Trinity-affiliated academics, Andrew F. Dixon, later a professor of anatomy, and Alfred C. Haddon, without the consent of the islanders who were searching for them have their return.

In September, Trinity Provost Professor Linda Doyle organized a meeting between representatives from the university and the Inishbofin community, at which it was agreed that a process would be put in place to investigate the issue.

The skulls are currently held at Trinity’s Old Anatomy Museum and are among more than 484 human remains brought from different parts of the world, mainly between the 18th and early 20th centuries, and used for either teaching or research purposes.

Trinity acknowledges that such collections of human remains were often acquired in ways that were not only problematic to modern sensibilities, but also problematic and illegal at the time.

Human remains were brought to Trinity from a number of locations in the west of Ireland in the 1890s.

Museums and cultural institutions in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere have begun returning or repatriating human remains to descendant communities.

The slave owner George Berkeley, a former student and Fellow of Trinity College and Dean of Derry in the Church of Ireland, was remembered in Trinity by subsequent generations, most recently by the Berkeley Library.

The library opened in 1967 and was given the Berkeley name in 1978 as part of a plan to put the names of distinguished graduates on newly completed buildings.


The Berkeley Library at Trinity College Dublin

Trinity has detailed historical evidence of his slave-owning activities and his ideological support for the slave system under settler-colonialism.

While living in Rhode Island, USA, between 1729 and 1731, he bought at least three slaves. He had acquired a plantation while initiating plans for a colonial university in Bermuda to train missionaries to proselytize among the Indian population.

His project was associated with Trinity from the beginning and at least four of the nine founding grantees were also from TCD. By 1732 the plan had failed.

Trinity said work on both issues is well advanced. Earlier this month, Trinity academics attended a public consultation in Inishbofin to discuss the process with the island community

The University is seeking written submissions on behalf of the Berkeley Library through Tuesday, January 31, 2023, and the issue will then be escalated to the Board of Directors.

Submissions to the Inishbofin are invited on or before Wednesday 7th December.

Provost Prof Doyle said she was pleased to see the process underway. “The goal is to shed light, not heat, on this complex legacy,” she said, adding that it “has been a learning process for all of us and we will evolve the process as necessary as we learn.” Trinity College Dublin is seeking public opinion on what to do with stolen skulls and library named after slave owners

Fry Electronics Team

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