Old St Coleman's Church and Graveyard on Inishbofin. C: Marie Coyne

Trinity College Dublin to return human remains to Inishbofin

Trinity College Dublin is to return human remains to the island of Inishbofin, from where they were taken without the community’s consent more than a century ago. 

In July 1890 ethnologist Alfred Cort Haddon and student Andrew Francis Dixon (subsequently Trinity’s Professor of Anatomy), took partial skeletal remains of 13 people from St Colman’s monastery in Inishbofin. As is clearly documented in Haddon’s diary of the time, they did not seek the community’s consent.

Since then, the remains have been stored in Trinity College Dublin. The context for this was a contemporary interest in fields including craniometry (measurement of the cranium) and anthropometry (scientific measurement of individuals).

The decision to return the human remains was approved by the Board of the University following a period of research, analysis and public consultation about the future of the remains overseen by the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group.

Further engagement will now take place with the Inishbofin community to identify the appropriate way of returning the remains.

Trinity Provost Dr Linda Doyle said:  “I am sorry for the upset that was caused by our retaining of these remains and I thank the Inishbofin community for their advocacy and engagement with us on this issue.

We will now work with the community to ensure that the remains are returned in a respectful manner and in accordance with the community’s wishes.

“I want to thank everyone who engaged with the process that we have put in place to address  issues of this nature. I am glad that we have made an evidence-based decision and that our process allowed all points of view to be heard.”

Example of a craniometer being used to measure the cranial length of an unidentified islander
on Inishbofin (1893) Photo: CR Browne MS 10961 (image courtesy of TCD)

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