University to deliver skulls to Irish island

taken from the island of Inishbofin, skulls

The Irish island of Inishbofin will receive the return of human remains, including 13 skulls, from Trinity College Dublin. .

They were kept at Trinity after being taken from an island cemetery by two academics more than a century ago.

Dr. Linda Doyle, provost of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), has expressed regret for the uproar her institution's possession of the remains has caused.

Residents of Inishbofin called TCD to return the remains and accused them of stealing.

The university declared that it would now consult islanders on the best way to return them.

The Island of the White Cow, also known as Inishbofin, is located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of County Galway and has a population of about 170.

Academics Andrew Francis Dixon, later Professor of Anatomy at Trinity College, and Alfred Cort Haddon sailed to Inishbofin in 1890 pretending to conduct a fishing survey.

However, they went into St. Colman's monastery on the island without the knowledge of the locals and stole the partial skeletal remains of 13 people, including their skulls.

At the time, there was interest in the study of anthropometry, the scientific measurement of people, and craniometry, the measurement of the cranium.

Haddon wrote about what transpired on Inishbofin in his diary.

The governing board of the university has since declared that the remains, which had been kept in TCD's former anatomy museum since that time, should be brought back to Inishbofin.

That came after a Legacies Review Working Group investigation at Trinity.

Trinity College Dublin

The university issued an apology for the distress that keeping the skulls had caused.

The review group started with the Inishbofin remains and is now looking at Trinity's connections to slavery and the British Empire as well.

For instance, TCD's library is named for the philosopher and 18th-century slave owner George Berkeley.

National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) sent human remains and other holy items back to Hawaii in 2022.

At a ceremony held at the Ulster Museum, representatives from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs were presented with five sacred objects and two distinct sets of human remains, including a skull.

Along with some other UK museums, it has looked into possible connections to the slave trade and is considering requests for the return of items to Australia, Asia, and South America.

The TCD, however, must return the remains that were actually taken from their fellow Irishmen on Inishbofin.

A petition demanding the return and denouncing "the criminal nature of how these remains came into possession of Trinity College in the first place" was signed by more than 150 of the island's current residents.

The remains were "removed illegally without permission," according to a letter to Trinity from the Inishbofin Development Company.

The letter stated that these individuals "were a part of the island community of Inishbofin and deserve to rest in peace in this sacred place they were laid to ground in.".

After TCD decided to return the remains, Dr. Linda Doyle issued a statement in which she expressed regret for the "upset that was caused by our retention of these remains and I thank the Inishbofin community for their advocacy and engagement on this issue.".

She continued, "We will now work with the community to ensure that the remains are returned in a respectful manner and in keeping with the community's wishes.

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