As of Friday last (November 18, 2022) 150 members of the Inishbofin community had signed a petition demanding the repatriation of the remains of thirteen islanders stolen from the burial ground on the island in 1890 and placed in a collection of anthropological specimens in the Anatomy Museum in TCD, where they remain in their original display cases.

Marie Coyne, Director of Inishbofin Heritage launched a repatriation campaign ten years ago after reading about the theft in an exhibition of ethnographic photographs held by TCD. In 2020, Coyne co-signed a letter to Paddy Prendergast, Provost of TCD, seeking the repatriation of the remains after he announced plans to ‘decolonise’ the college campus. Prendergast agreed that the remains should be returned but the college did a U-turn after a committee tasked with the redevelopment of the Anatomy Museum objected.

Behind the scenes negotiations continued, but little progress was made and in August 2022 a spokesperson for the “Old’ Anatomy Working Group confirmed that TCD School of Medicine was is ‘not in a position to support a request for deaccession of the crania and transfer to the possession of private individuals or historical interest groups’.

Two weeks later, community representatives and repatriation campaigners attended a meeting Provost Linda Doyle organised with members of the colonial legacies team and a decision on repatriation seemed imminent. It never happened and sources in TCD confirmed that Council of the university agreed with the School of Medicine.

TCD sent a delegation to the island in November for a public meeting with the community. The delegates outlined how the college intended to process the claim as part of the Trinity Colonial Legacies project and asked for the community to engage with the process. The community responded with a unanimous show of hands demanding the repatriation of the remains held by TCD and this was repeated as an emphatic mandate when the delegation refused to engage with proposals from the floor.

26 people attended that meeting although many more islanders could not be present because of a funeral and the timing of the meeting. It was decided to confirm the show of hands with a petition of the full community and the petition will be sent to TCD early next week. In the meantime, the Trinity Colonial Legacies project is finalising a process of public consultation and evidence gathering that it hopes will persuade the Board of the college to support the repatriation process in the face of continued opposition from the School of Medicine, even though they accept that they are asking the community to jump through hoops.

circle of texture grey back ground with the words embossed on it. designed by Ciarán n Walsh