Human Remains Taken from Inishbofin Returning Home

July 14, 2023 10:32 am

The human remains that were stolen from Inishbofin Island have finally been returned home. The long process of getting these remains back to where they belong is over.

We applaud the board of Trinity College, University of Dublin for making the decision to correct this historical injustice and thank the colonial legacies team for supporting the return and burial of our ancestral remains.

To mark this moment, a reburial ceremony for the stolen skulls took place on the afternoon of Sunday, 16th of July. The remains arrived to Inishbofin on the previous day. Many had been waiting for this day for a long time. It was a step toward healing and honouring these people who were laid to rest on Inishbofin.

We want to express deepest gratitude to everyone who has supported and contributed to the process throughout the journey. Your dedication has been crucial in rectifying the past wrongdoings and in paying respect to the lives of those who were part of our island community before us.

Inishbofin Heritage Museum presents ‘Returning Home’, an outdoor exhibition of photographs taken in Inishbofin 1893.

The aim of the exhibition is to add living faces to the anthropological collection of human remains that Trinity College, University of Dublin released for burial in 2023. The exhibition includes a photograph Alfred Cort Haddon took of the skulls he stole from St Colman’s Monastery in 1890, which triggered a ten-year campaign for the return and burial of the remains. The exhibition is located on the old pier, the same spot that Charles R. Browne measured the heads of Islanders in 1893.

Browne was the first (and only) graduate of a small Anthropology Dept that Prof Daniel J. Cunningham established in the Anatomy Dept of Trinity College in 1891. Browne and his brother John were keen photographers and they systematically documented the topography, people, modes of life and archaeology of eight districts in the west of Ireland, which they surveyed between 1892 and 1900 as agents of the Anthropological Laboratory in Trinity College.

Haddon and Cunningham set up the laboratory in 1891 and mobilised it for an ethnographic survey of the Aran Islands in 1892. The laboratory moved to Inishbofin in 1893 for a second survey. Haddon visited the island during a survey of fishing ground in 1890 and recorded the theft of thirteen skulls from St Colman’s Monastery in his journal. He also took a photograph of the skulls in situ. Haddon intended returning to Inishbofin in 1893, but Cunningham dropped him from the survey because of his home rule sympathies and radically anti-colonial attitudes.

Returning Home’ features 11 photographs from the photographic archive Browne compiled in 1897. Inishbofin features in one of two albums that record the work of the Anthropological Laboratory. A selection of these photographs were included in ‘The Irish Headhunter’ exhibition in 2012, which toured the districts the Browne surveyed. Marie Coyne noticed the photograph Haddon took of the stolen skulls and this triggered a ten-year campaign to have the remains returned for burial.

The campaign concluded on Sunday 16 July 2023 when the remains were buried in the grounds of St Colman’s Monastery, one hundred and thirty three years to the day after they were stolen.

To mark the occasion, Inishbofin Heritage Museum and The Library of Trinity College, University of Dublin has given permission for a limited edition print of Haddon’s photograph of the ‘stolen skull’. Copies can be purchased here.
This is a fundraiser organised by Ciarán Walsh, the aim being to recover the costs incurred by Inishbofin Heritage Museum during the return and burial of the remains on 15 and 16 July 2023, especially the ’Returning Home’ exhibition of photographs Charles R. Brown took on the island in 1893.

The entire collection of Browne photographs in Trinity College is freely available online.

You can download the catalogue of the 2012 Charles R. Browne exhibition called ‘The Irish Headhunter: the photograph Albums of Charles R. Browne’.

Articles and videos:

Stolen skulls are brought back home to Inishbofin – The Irish Times

Stolen Irish skulls snatched from graveyard finally returned to Inishbofin Island – Sky News

Reburial ceremony held as 400-year-old human skulls returned to Inishbofin – Irish Examiner

Ancient skulls stolen from Inishbofin in 1890 are laid to rest –

Trinity College Dublin considers returning Inishbofin skulls – The Guardian

Irish island demands return of skulls looted by colonial-era scientists – Washington Post

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