Alfred Cort Haddon, a very English savage. Berghahn Books.

Research seminar and book launch, Royal Anthropological Institute, 31 October 2023

The fifth volume in a series on Anthropology’s AncestorsAlfred Cort Haddon: A Very English Savage is an innovative account of one of the least-understood characters in the history of anthropology. Walsh regards most of what has been written about Haddon as a form of disciplinary folklore shaped by a theory of scientific revolutions. He uses previously overlooked, primary sources to argue that Haddon, the grandson of anti-slavery activists, set out to revolutionise anthropology in the 1890s in association with a network of anarcho-utopian activists and philosophers. The main action takes place in Ireland, where Haddon adopted the persona of a very English savage in a new form of performed photo-ethnography that constituted a singularly modernist achievement in anthropology.

‘Shooting Skellig — 150 years of photography on Michael’s Rock’.

The Irish Examiner.

Skellig provided J. J. Abrams with the perfect location for the birthplace of the Jedi. The challenge of filming Star Wars on a steep rock twelve kilometres out in the Atlantic has added enormously to the mystique of a place with a long tradition of pilgrims scaling its twin peaks. 150 years before Abrams landed on Skellig, Edwin Wyndham-Quin noticed a monastic complex on the first ordnance survey map of the rock and included it in his study of pagan forts, Christian hermitages and mediaeval churches. William Mercer photographed each site between 1866 and 1869 and the discovery in April 2023 of his print of “St Michael’s Church and Cell” provides an opportunity to revisit an adventure in photography that surpasses Abrams’ determination to film on the rock.

How Inishbofin skull came home to rest in ‘peace forever’.

The Irish Examiner.

Normalising the Abnormal: Trinity College Dublin Decides what to do with its Collection of Stolen Skulls

AJEC (Anthropological Journal of European Cultures) Blog: Academic Research in the Anthropology of Europe.

Charles R. Browne, the first graduate in academic anthropology at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), went to Inishbofin in 1893 with a plan to collect skulls in a burial ground Alfred Cort Haddon had robbed in 1890. The islanders remembered Haddon, and frustrated Browne’s endeavor (Browne 1993: 334). Marie Coyne, founder of Inishbofin Heritage Museum, began seeking the repatriation of the Haddon skulls in 2015, but made little progress until the Black Lives Matter movement forced TCD management to consider colonial legacies in 2020. Two years later, TCD sent a delegation from the newly established colonial legacies project back to Inishbofin to deal with the issue of the skulls.




Artist, Philosopher, Ethnologist and Activist: The Life and Work of Alfred Cort Haddon (1855–1940)

Bérose International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, August:

Alfred Cort Haddon (1855–1940) was an artist and philosopher who decided to become an ethnologist in 1887. Radicalised in the Torres Strait in 1888, he joined a network of utopians, anarchists, and socialists who looked to post-evolutionist anthropology for inspiration in their search for an alternative to dog-eat-dog capitalism. Post-evolutionist is employed here to indicate that the argument for evolution had been won by 1890 and Haddon’s network adopted a post-biological form of evolution as a metonym for the human capacity to adapt and create new forms of social organisation. … That story never made it into the history of anthropology, and I remember it here with the intention of disrupting the common sense that prevails about Haddon and his role in the modernisation of anthropology. 

How roots of Riverdance can be found in Kerry

RTÉ Brainstorm:

President Mary Robinson used her inauguration in 1990 to invite the citizens of Ireland to come dance with her and usher in a new Ireland. Four years later, the interval act at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest transformed the way we think about dancing in Ireland. According to choreographer Fearghus Ó Chonchúir, Riverdance registered a shift from the rurality of an older folk tradition to a globalised urbanity. While there is a consensus 26 years on that Riverdance signalled an epic break with tradition, the creative model for the show was developed in a collaboration with dancers working within the distinctive traditions of flamenco in Spain and folk dance in Ireland.

Don’t Kick That Skull or the Dead Will Come after You!

RTÉ Brainstorm:

Covid restrictions have forced us all to think about traditions relating to death and dying. The case of the Inishbofin skulls at TCD has added a curious twist to that story. An investigation into the provenance of those skulls has uncovered a long-forgotten tradition of placing skulls in medieval ruins and an associated body of folklore that warned people against interfering with them. The message was simple: don’t kick that skull or the dead will come after you!


Anarchy in the UK: Haddon and the Anarchist Agenda in the Anglo-Irish Folklore Movement

In Folklore and Nation in Britain and Ireland, edited by Matthew Cheeseman and Carina Hart (eds), 78-99. London: Routledge.

The case of the missing skulls from Inishbofin

RTÉ Brainstorm:

John Millington Synge poked fun at colonial science in The Playboy of the Western World when he referred to an anthropological collection in TCD. “Did you never hear tell,” Jimmy asked Philly “of the skulls they have in the city of Dublin, ranged out like blue jugs in a cabin of Connaught?” In 2020, TCD announced plans to deal with its colonial legacy and I joined real-life descendants of Synge’s characters in asking Provost Paddy Prendergast if he had heard of the same skulls. The repatriation of these skulls would, we proposed, be a good way to start decolonising the campus.

The head-hunter who measured Irishmen’s skulls

RTÉ Brainstorm:

Have you ever wondered about the political significance of the shape of your head? In the 1890s, anthropologists were so fixated on the shape of heads that a critic described anthropology as a skull-measuring business operated by anatomists who thought they could solve the problem of human origin and evolution. TCD established a skull-measuring laboratory in 1891 and researchers began measuring heads in the Aran Islands in 1892, using techniques that are used in facial recognition technologies today.

Why does Kerry have a lower rate of Covid-19 than other counties

RTÉ Brainstorm


The Victorian curator who railed against racism and imperialism

Irish Independent, June 20: 10:

Doctoral Research

Drawing on preliminary research for the “Irish Head-Hunter, this thesis represents a radical rewrite of the history of Anglo-Irish anthropology in Ireland and present a provocative assessment of what the means for anthropology in Ireland today as academics grapple with the fallout from a resurgent Black Lives Matter Movement.

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