Last Friday, I became an anthropologist after I successfully defended my PhD thesis at Maynooth University (MU), where I made a short presentation about my research on the skull measuring business in Ireland and answered questions from a panel of experts who were appointed to assess the quality of my research and the arguments presented in my thesis.

Dr David Shankland, Director of the Royal Anthropological Institute in London, agreed to act as external examiner when I submitted my thesis in October 2019. He described it as an excellent piece of research, which, if grades were given for a PhD, would have achieved the grade of summa cum laude, with the highest distinction.

Prof Hana Červinková, Head of the Dept of Anthropology at MU, agreed to act as an internal examiner. She led an interesting discussion of the relationship between my work as a visual arts curator and an anthropologist, which revealed the extent to which a brief exposure to anthropology in art college in the 1980s had a profound influence on my work as a curator ever since. It was at that point in the discussion that I realised that I had become an anthropologist.

Dr. Thomas Flavin agreed to chair the examination and Dr Mark Maguire and Prof David Prendergast, my supervisors, attended as observers, as is the practice on these occasions. Prof Martina Hennessy represented TCD School of Medicine, which is a research partner in this project.

L-R: Chair Dr. Thomas Flavin (Associate Professor, Economics, Finance and Accounting, MU), Supervisor Prof David Prendergast (Dept of Anthropology MU), external examiner Dr David Shankland (Director, Royal Anthropological Institute, London), internal examiner Prof Hana Červinková (Head of Dept of Anthropology, MU), Ciarán Walsh, IRC Scholar, and supervisor Dr Mark Maguire (Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, MU).

The panel decided that I should be awarded a Doctorate degree without further examination, subject to making the changes specified to the satisfaction of my internal examiner, a process that should take a couple of weeks. Then I submit hardbound copies of my thesis and I become a Doctor of Philosophy (Anthropology) at a conferring ceremony in Maynooth University in September 2020.


My thesis represents the culmination of groundbreaking and critically acclaimed work on John Millington’s Synge’s ethnographic photography, which was developed in the “Irish Headhunter” project with co-curator Dáithí De Mórdha. This led into this study of the skull measuring business and the associated development by Alfred Cort Haddon of an early form of modern visual ethnography in the west of Ireland in the 1890s. This project was truly collaborative and would not have been possible without the support of many people in Dublin, Cambridge, London, and, of course, Ballyheigue.

There isn’t enough space to acknowledge individual contributions here, but I do want to acknowledge the support – financial and otherwise – of the Irish Research Council and Shanahan Research Group over a period of almost 5 years. With regard to the academic programme, I acknowledge the generosity of everyone in Cambridge University Library, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Haddon Library, Trinity College Dublin, and the support, hard work, patience, and perseverance of everyone in the Anthropology Department at Maynooth University.

Thank You | Míle Buíochas