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The dead body in Ireland: an interdisciplinary conference.

21 - 22 September, 2023
Trinity College Dublin and Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin Cemeteries Trust


In September 1823 the burial of Arthur D’Arcy, a well-known Dublin citizen, was disturbed by a complaint. When mourners and members of the Catholic clergy gathered in St Kevin’s Churchyard in Dublin city to recite the De Profundis over his coffin, the sexton of the Anglican parish, William Bruce Dunn interrupted. He asserted that prayers at the graveside for Catholics in a Church of Ireland churchyard violated the law. The incident came to public attention, another example of religious tension in nineteenth-century Ireland.

The burial of Catholics in Church of Ireland graveyards was required by law since 1697, but the issue of prayers, rites and rituals, created tension at a local and national level. As part of government attempts to address the conditions of Catholics and dissenters, the Easement of Burial Act was passed in 1824, and the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 ensured that Catholics could purchase their own ground for interment. From the 1850s onwards the state became more directly involved in the management of cemeteries through the passage of the Burial Boards Act (1856). This role was further cemented following the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (1869) and the introduction of the Public Health Act (1878).

In recent years historic treatment of the dead has come to public notice following the confirmation that almost 800 children were buried in septic tanks on the grounds of a Mother and Baby Home in Galway. Discussion around the repatriation of human remains from Irish museums and universities has also hit the headlines. On the anniversary of the 1823 controversy the School of Histories and Humanities at Trinity College Dublin and Dublin Cemeteries Trust (created by O’Connell in the 1820s) are delighted to invite scholars to the university and the cemetery to discuss the significance of the dead body in Irish culture and history and consider the ‘work’ that the dead have done and continue to do in Irish society. (Thomas Laqueur, The work of the dead, 2015)
We welcome scholars from all disciplines and all career stages to begin a discussion on histories of burial in Ireland since the early modern period. Dr Clodagh Tait (Mary Immaculate College, UL) will be one of two keynote speakers over the two days.

  • Normative / deviant burial
  • Archaeology and the remains of the dead
  • Commemoration / grave markers
  • Cemeteries and cilliní
  • Institutional burial
  • The science of burial
  • Medical history
  • Rituals of mourning
  • Religion and faith
  • The treatment of the dead
  • Exhumation
  • Display of the dead
  • Repatriation of human remains
  • Dead Irish bodies abroad / Irish diaspora

Queries and submissions to Dr Georgina Laragy, School of Histories and Humanities, Trinity College Dublin . Please send a 250 word abstract of your paper, along with a short bio by 20 June 2023 if you wish to present your research. Details about attending will be released once the schedule is finalised.

Deadline: 20 June 2023