Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search


You are here Media > News

Trinity to return human remains to Inishbofin Island

February 23, 2023 - Trinity College Dublin has announced its decision, approved by the Board of the University on the 22 February 2023, to return human remains to the island of Inishbofin, where they were taken without the community’s consent more than a century ago.

Dr Ciaran O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub has been working alongside colleagues Dr Patrick Walsh and Dr Mobeen Hussain (School of Histories and Humanities) as part of the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group to oversee the research, analysis and public consultation on the future of the remains.

The decision also follows this week’s ‘Behind the Headlines’ discussion by the Trinity Long Room Hub on ‘Returning Remains: Context, Consent and Colonialism’ where panellists addressed the complexities and tensions surrounding the retention or reburial of human remains in the museum and university sectors. Leading the discussion, Dr Ciaran O’Neill said that “over the past academic year Trinity College Dublin has begun the necessary work of listening to communities of origin for some of the human remains stored on site, and in particular those taken from a graveyard on the offshore island of Inishbofin in July of 1890.”

Speaking on the panel Professor Samuel Redman, University of Massachusetts at Amherst detailed his experience in the museum sector in North America where he has worked on questions of repatriation, particularly in relation to native American communities. Remarking on his “surprise” at the vast scale of the collections under discussion, he highlighted how “the Smithsonian Institution, at its peak, had an estimated 38,000 sets of human remains”, and a further estimate suggesting that there may be up to 500,000 sets of native American remains held in US repositories and institutions, with a further 500,000 sets of human remains held in European institutions, including the British Museum.


Describing herself as a “practitioner in the field”, Peggy King Jorde, the activist behind New York City's African Burial Ground, said “with the rediscovery of the African Burial Ground in New York City a lot of lessons were learned and continue to inform projects like it across the US and across the Atlantic” including “that cultural and historical integrity of the project must insist upon the meaningful engagement of the descendant and stake holding community.”

Dr Olof Ljungström has been employed by the Karolinska Institutet since 2005 to write the history of modern medical research, and to document and write the history of the institute along with it. Speaking of crania that were taken from Pälkäne church ruin in Finland in 1873, Dr Ljungström reflected on the difficulties this case presents in terms of inter-state relations between Finland and Sweden.

Finally, Evi Numan, Curator at Trinity’s Old Anatomy Museum recounted how the partial cranial remains of 13 people came to be taken from St Colman’s monastery in Inishbofin by Alfred Cort Haddon and student Andrew Francis Dixon and brought to Trinity College Dublin.  She also spoke of the burial customs of the time as part of provenance research that has been carried out by the Museum.

The Inishbofin remains are the first case to be considered by Trinity’s Legacies Review Working Group whose role is to collate and document evidence on legacy issues.

Accompanying the news of the University’s decision this week, 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.”

To read the full background to this case, please see here.


Support Trinity Long Room Hub

Click Here