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Tá gadaí na gceann ar ais in Árann: osclaíonn ‘Fiagaí na gCeann Gaelach, Na Halbaim Grianghraif le Charles R. Browne’ in Áras Éanna, Inis Oírr, Árann.




The headhunters return: ‘The Irish Headhunter, The Photograph Albums of Charles R. Browne’ opens in Áras Éanna, Inis Oírr, Árann.


‘Anthropometry in Aran’ captures Browne and Haddon in action measuring he head of Tom Conneely on Inis Mór, Árann, in 1891. It is one of a small number of photographs of Aran that feature in ‘The Irish Headhunter, The Photograph Albums of Charles R. Browne,’ a project developed by www.curator.ie that opened in Áras Éanna, the arts centre on the island of Inis Oírr on Sunday 1 July, 20.

These are the first images of Aran that are known to exist and form part of a photographic survey of the communities of the western seaboard of Ireland between 1891 and 1900. It is the first time that these photographs have been published and it is probably the most important photographic archive to come into the public domain according to Ciarán Walsh who curated the show with Dáithí de Mórdha.

In 1891 Charles R. Browne and Alfred Cort Haddon (Haddon the Headhunter) arrived in Aran to carry out an ethnographical survey of the Aran Islands on behalf of the Anthropological Museum in Trinity College Dublin, one of a complex of initiatives based in the Department of Anatomy of  TCD that were involved in the investigation of the origin of the species in the aftermath of the acceptance by the scientific community of  the theory of evolution.

Browne and Haddon, Irish scientists funded by the Royal Irish Academy, had established the Anthropometric Laboratory  in TCD and, during the long vacation of 1891, they pitched their tent in Aran and began surveying the ‘natives’ in an attempt to record the typical Aranite. The idea that the population of the British Isles was composed of ‘types’ that could be differentiated through measurable racial characteristics was closely linked to ideas about the origin of the species and social Darwinism in particular – that societies evolve from a primitive to a civilised state. In crude terms, the primitives of Aran were less evolved than the white, Anglo Saxon Protestant as represented by the scientific establishment to which Browne and Haddon belonged. The fact that Aran had once been occupied by ‘Firbolgs’ – a mythical race of small dark, people – had no doubt influenced the decision to begin the survey of the remotest parts of Ireland (na Gaeltachta effectively) in Aran.

After Aran, Haddon returned to Cambridge and became very influential in the development of British anthropology -; earning the nickname ‘Haddon the Headhunter’ in the process. Browne continued with the ethnographic survey of the the western seaboard, carrying on with Haddon’s habit of collecting specimens, the skulls of dead islanders removed from graves and ruined churches in the islands. He became the Irish headhunter, a practice revealed for the first time in this exhibition.

In 1893, Browne and Haddon published the Ethnography of the Aran Islands in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, the first of  a series of six reports on the people and their lifetstyle, customs, folklore, archaeology and natural environment of the west coast of Ireland. Combined with the photographs in this exhibition, they form an unprecedented social history of the communities that were surveyed.

The opening of ‘The Irish Headhunter, The Photograph Albums of Charles R. Browne’ by Micheál de Mórdha revisits Browne and Haddon’s survey of the Aran Islands for the first time in 120 years.



Ciarán Walsh, www.curator.ie, launches the 'Irish Headhunter Project,' May 2012, the most important photographic archive to come into the public domain in Ireland in a long time. In association with Trinity College Dublin, The Blasket Centre, Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir, Justin Carville, Ciarán Rooney and Séamas Mac Philib, The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. Supported by the Office of Public Works and the Heritage Council.