I suspended work on my Ballymaclinton blog while writing my book on Haddon for Berghahn Books New York, but the announcement that the Trustees of the Hunterian Museum in London have withdrawn the skeleton of Charles O’Brien – an Irish giant known and Charles Byrne – from public display brought the resumption of blogging forward by a couple of weeks.

The ethics of such displays were an important part of my research and the subject of a previous blog on Cornelius Magrath, another Irish giant. It seemed like a good time to resume blogging and An Irish giant, 24 stolen skulls, one colonial legacies project and a slave owner named Berkeley is the first of a new series of blogs that feature aspects of my recent research and current activism.


Brendan Holland in the Anatomy Museum TCD during the filming of The Giant Gene for BBC. Photo Chris Nikkel. Chris Nikkel and Brendan Holland filmed part of their documentary The Giant Gene in the museum and a key question for Holland, as a contemporary Irish giant, was whether he would like his bones to go on public display like Magrath in Dublin and O’Brien in London.

What does the removal of the skeleton of Charles Byrne from public display in London mean for Trinity College Dublin with regard to its retention of 24 skulls stolen from community burial grounds in Inishbofin, the Aran Islands and St. Finian’s Bay, Kerry? The repatriation of these remains has become a test case for the colonial legacies project initiated by Prof Ciarán O’Neill in 2020 and the question now is whether the issue of human remains in collections in London and Dublin tells us anything about the impending judgement on Berkeley’s involvement in slavery. …

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