Category Archives: Research

Anarchy in the UK: Haddon, Home Rule and Brexit

 

The following is a transcript of a Powerpoint presentation given at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Folklore Society. It was devised  in response to a call for papers that explored the relationship between  “Folklore and the Nation.”

The blog represents the first results of a four year investigation of the “skull measuring business” in Ireland in the 1890s. That project was funded by the Irish Research Council and Shanahan Research Group in association with Maynooth University and the School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.

The presentation develops ideas that were first presented to the Irish Conference on Folklore and Ethnology in Belfast in November 2018.

 

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Abstract

This presentation deals with ethnicity, nationalism and folklore, drawing on a forgotten anti-Imperial movement in British folklore. It begins with an anti-colonial speech delivered by Alfred Haddon in Ipswich in 1895. Haddon was aligned with the volkskunde wing of the folklore movement in Ireland and opened his speech by acknowledging nationalist efforts to disengage from political and economic union with Britain. Haddon entered anthropology through folklore, equating the destruction of native customs in subjugated territories with the loss of personal identity, ethnicity, and, ultimately, nationhood. Haddon spoke to Patrick Geddes and Havelock Ellis about reconstituting anthropology as a vehicle for radical anti-colonial activism. They were inspired by the anarchist geography of Kropotkin, the radical ethnology of Reclus, and the “Zeitgeist” of Gomme (FLS). This conference looks like the place  to remember an engagement between Irish nationalists, English folklorists and stateless anarchists /ethnologists on the brink of Ireland’s exit from union with Britain.

 

1    Haddon

TCD MS 10961/4/1v, Anthropometry in Aran: Aran Islands, 1892.

The Dublin Anthropometric Laboratory operating in the field in the Aran Islands in 1892. Courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

02 Tom Connelly schedule 650

The original schedule of measurements taken from Tom Connelly. The schedule was based on a form developed by francis Galton for his anthropometric laboratory in London. Courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

 

The photograph above shows Alfred Cort Haddon [on the right], with Charles R.Browne [on the left] measuring Tom Connelly (Ó Conghaile).  It was taken in 1892 during an ethnographic survey of the Aran Islands. The survey was undertaken by the Dublin Anthropometric Laboratory, which was established in Trinity College Dublin in 1891.

Francis Galton designed the laboratory and its main operating procedures. The Royal Irish Academy provided operational funding. Daniel J. Cunningham, Professor of Anatomy in TCD, provided the premises. Haddon was responsible for a programme of fieldwork that was undertaken in what he described as “ethnical Islands” in remote parts of the West of Ireland.

 

2     Methodology

This image of Haddon measuring the skulls of Irish peasants encapsulates much of what has been written about his fieldwork in Ireland.  The literature is – generally speaking – preoccupied with race bracketed by evolution and colonisation. It represents Haddon’s framing of “the Irish” as the antithesis of the cultural construction of nationality that was promoted by Douglas Hyde, the folklorist who set the agenda for cultural nationalism and republican separatism in the 1890s.

This presentation sets out to disturb this consensus with some awkward, little facts that have been gleaned from Haddon’s papers  – mainly his journals of fieldwork in Ireland, his correspondence with Patrick Geddes and Havelock Ellis, and some key anti-imperialist statements written by him between 1891 and 1892.

These “facts” were used to test the relationship between, information, rhetoric and historiography in the context of organised science and the politics of ethnology, anthropology, and folklore in the 1890s.

The question here, is whether these “facts” can sustain an argument that Haddon incorporated anarchist ideas into the agenda of folklore collection in Ireland in the 1890s, an argument that complicates conventional treatments of the historical relationship between ethnicity, folklore, and nationality in the context of Ireland’s  exit from the UK.

Clara Patterson

Clara Patterson, 1893, Children Playing “Poor Mary” in Ballymiscaw.

 

The presentation concludes with a look at Haddon’s collaboration with Clara Patterson, a zoologists turned folklore collector and photographer. This is used to demonstrate that  Haddon the Head-hunter was, in fact,  a politically radical and formally innovative folklorist.

 

3     Home Rule and Brexit

 

In this presentation I’ll be looking at the role that folklore played in the political and cultural arguments that were generated by home rule; the campaign to take Ireland out of political and economic union with Great Britain, which dominated Anglo-Irish relations in the the 1880s and 1890s.

There are some obvious parallels with Brexit. The Customs Union and a backstop for the Protestant minority in Ireland featured in the first Government of Ireland [home rule] Bill of 1886. That bill was defeated by the Conservatives supported by Unionists.

 The difference are far more significant.

Ireland was a colony and the intertwined campaigns for home rule and land reform were confronted with “coercion” legislation and the mobilisation of imperial forces. Cultural forces were also mobilised in a debate about the compatibility of the Celt and the Anglo-Saxon in relation to nationality and governance.

Folklore collectors provided evidence of a pre-conquest nation that had survived in the edgelands of Empire in Ireland. Folklore, in this context, is generally treated as a resource for cultural nationalism.

I am not arguing with that. What I am proposing, however, is that there was a far more radical, anti-Imperial movement in Anglo-Irish folklore and that it was led by Haddon, the head-hunter.

 

4      Anglo-Irish Folklore

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Haddon entered organised anthropology through the Folklore Society. In 1890, Gomme congratulated the Society on its capture of Haddon, who abandoned natural science and became an ardent folklorist. Gomme added that Haddon was pursuing his folk-lore work in Ireland and that he was expecting great things from him.

1890 

Haddon visited the Aran Islands for the first time and  1890. He wrote in his journal that they were the most remarkable islands he had ever visited. He spent a week documenting the islanders and their way of life. Haddon, it seems, had discovered a village community that had managed to escape the worst consequences of the Anglo-Saxon – his words – colonisation of Ireland.

Pyotr (Peter) Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist in exile in England, had used the idea of a village community to reject social-Darwinist arguments advanced by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1885. Huxley, it should be noted, was probably the most powerful public scientist in Britain at the time and was, in many ways, Haddon’s boss.

Havelock Ellis commissioned Gomme to write a book on village communities. Gomme acknowledged that the social organisation of some village communities resembled modern socialism. That claim has to be taken with some caution.  It could be that  the political commentary was insinuated by Ellis as editor of the volume.

Nevertheless, Haddon read Gomme’s book before visiting the islands and he informed Ellis that he had noted the influence of the zeitgeist.

 1892 

In 1892, Haddon returned to the islands to conduct an “ethnographic” study of the inhabitants. The influence of  both Kropotkin and Gomme is evident in the report that was published in 1893.

 First, the introduction makes an historic distinction between race and ethnicity.

Second, the emphasis on the relation between race, place and political economy is             consistent with Kropotkin’s work on the village communities, which Ellis had adopted as a key part of his political agenda.

1893      

In January, Haddon persuaded members of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club (BNFC) to undertake fieldwork on behalf of the Ethnographic Survey of the UK. He presented the survey of the Aran Islands as a model.  The members agreed to collect folklore, but declined to undertake the measurement of peasant skulls .

1894   

In November , Douglas Hyde, the folklorist, gave a lecture at the BNFC on Celtic language and literature.

1895  

Hyde was followed by Haddon in January 1895. Haddon lectured on ‘Modern Relics of Olden Time’ and introduced a link between children’s games and savage dances.

As a result of these contrasting presentations, Hyde and Haddon have been linked in debates about the relationship between folklore, ethnology, and cultural nationalism / home rule.

 

5     Prof Haddon and Dr Hyde

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In November 1892,  Douglas Hyde delivered his lecture on ‘The Necessity of De-Anglicising the Irish Nation’ to the National Literary Society in Dublin. This lecture is widely acknowledged as a pivotal moment in the language-based, cultural movement associated with home rule and separatism.

The Gaelic league was founded in 1893 and a branch was establish in Belfast in 1896, directly as a result of Hyde’s visit to the BNFC. This has been interpreted as an equally pivotal moment in the separation of racial and cultural determinisms of nationality.

The key text is Greta Jones’s “Contested Territories,” published in 1998.

‘Haddon’s work in anthropology’ according to Jones ‘exemplifies the dominance of Darwinian evolutionary Anthropology’ and Haddon was ‘the Darwinian evolutionist par excellence’ who regarded ‘ anthropology as a form of cultural zoology.’

 

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Jones quoted a piece written by Haddon in 1890, in which he described much of Folklore ‘as Psychological Palaeontology’.  In 2017, Diamuid Ó Giolláin, in his introduction to the English-language edition of Irish Ethnologies quoted jones’ description of Haddon to illustrate significant differences between Haddon and Hyde and, by extension, between the practice of Victorian ethnology in Ireland and the cultural programme of Irish nationalists.

The problem here is that Jones misinterpreted Haddon’s original statement and the context in which it was made. 

In 1890, Havelock Ellis asked Haddon to write a general study of anthropology. Ellis wanted to include it in the Contemporary Science Series, of which he was the editor. Haddon drafted a letter to Ellis and included a list of potential treatments. Haddon’s reference to “psychological palaeontology” is a reductionist representation of a theory of folklore, which attempted to situate the study of folklore within a scientific construction of anthropology.

page 9

File: Haddon to Ellis May 14 1890

 

This circumstance of the  letter places Haddon’s comment in a really interesting context:

  • Ellis was using the Contemporary Science Series to publish anarchist texts.
  • He wanted to anchor the series in a general study of anthropology.
  • Patrick Geddes recommended Haddon for the job.

Geddes met Haddon in Cambridge in the late 1870s. In 1890, he advised Haddon to become an anthropologist but warned him that the skull measuring business had been overtaken by a great scientific movement that was developing in France around radical approaches to comparative sociology.

 

page 10

File: Geddes to Haddon 1889

 

6    The Network

Geddes introduced Haddon to the writings of anarchist and geographer Pyotr (Peter) Kropotkin and radical ethnologist Élie Reclus.  He also introduced him to Ellis. Haddon had become part of a European network of anarchists, socialist, feminists, and social reformers.

 

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Top L-R: Élisée Reclus, Louise Michel, Pyotr Kropotkin, Élie Reclus, Noémi Reclus.                 Bottom L-R: Alice Gomme, G. L. Gomme, Patrick Geddes, Havelock Ellis, The Field Club Union.

Note 1

The photograph of the members of the Field Club Union is used to represent the network of folklore collectors that Haddon put together in Ireland, especially the women – key members of the network – for whom it was not possible to locate portraits online.

Note 2

The fact that Haddon was associating with former communards and anarchists –men and women, whose characters were, according to Geddes, ‘disciplined by the disasters of 70-71’ – may seem a little far-fetched. Haddon and Geddes refer to Kropotkin and Élie Reclus in their correspondence. Furthermore,  Haddon and Élisée Reclus participated in the Summer Meeting of Art and Science that was organised by Geddes in August 1895. Reclus gave a number of public lectures on Anarchy on his way to Edinburgh, in which he noted that there was plenty of scope for anarchy in the UK. These people – stateless anarchists and revolutionaries – were very much part of Haddon network in the early 1890s.

 

7      Clara patterson

 

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Members of the combined field clubs of Ireland gathered on the pier in Kimurvey Bay in the Aran islands in 1895. The photograph was taken by Robert j. Welch.  It has been cropped here to emphasise the presence of a group of female naturalists.

 

Haddon built his own network in Ireland, drawing heavily of the folklore and field club movements, seen here gathered on the pier in Kilmurvey Bay in the Aran Islands in 1895.

He recruited Clara Patterson in January 1893. Patterson trained as a zoologist with Haddon and won a bronze medal in examinations conducted by Haddon under the auspices of the Society for the Extension of University Teaching.

The extension of university teaching was promoted by Geddes, Ellis, and Elisée Reclus as a means of empowering socially and politically marginalised groups. Gender equality was a priority area for political action and Haddon’s promotion of women is a matter of record.

In this context, it should be noted that Clara Patterson was not allowed to present her research on folklore to members of the BNFC. It was read by Francis Joseph Bigger, which was, as Guy Beiner noted, the practice in organisations like that. Haddon challenged such discrimination in 1890, when he arranged for Alice Shackleton to be the first woman to read a scientific paper to the Royal Dublin Society.

Haddon was a feminist.

 

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In March 1892, The Belfast News-Letter reported that Patterson presented specimens at a meeting of the Microscopical Meeting of the BNFC, which was “designed to be an elaborate illustration of the course of lectures on zoology delivered in Belfast by Professor H. [sic] C. Haddon, M. A. under the auspices of the society for the Extension of University Teaching.” In May, the News-Letter reported that Patterson was awarded a Bronze medal in examinations conducted by Haddon for the Society .

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Clara Patterson collected information on children’s games for Alice Gomme in 1893. Haddon persuaded her to take photographs and Patterson went up the hill to Ballymiscaw, a rural district in county Down, to get “instantaneous” photographs of peasant children playing “Poor Mary.”

in 1894, Haddon wrote about children’s games in his column in the The Irish Daily Independent. He proposed that singing games could represent the last vestiges of savage customs in contemporary society. 

This may be interpreted as evidence of Haddon’s attachment to what Tabitha Cadbury called the discredited doctrine of  “survivals.” That would not be entirely accurate. Haddon may have been using the rhetoric of “survivals,” but his intention was far more radical.

 

8    “Survivals” versus “Sympathetic Knowledge”

Haddon developed the concept of “sympathetic knowledge” and illustrated it by pointing out correspondences between the daily actions of people at the extremes of human kind. This shows how quickly he had  incorporated Kropotkin’s ideas into his treatment of anthropological problems.

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Haddon wrote  “Incidents in the life of a Torres Straits islander” in 1889. It was the first of a series of overtly anti-imperial statements and actions. It included the following definition of “sympathetic knowledge”:

An intimate and friendly acquaintance with savages breaks down many prejudices, and while it often reveals modes of thought and traits of character which are all but incomprehensible to us with our specialized Aryan civilization, yet human nature is displayed at every turn, and common impulses and sympathies link the extremes of human kind. 

Haddon was redefining the task of ethnographic representation in line with Kropotkin’s argument for increased access to geography in general education. The third, great task of geography was defined by Kropotkin as:

that of dissipating the prejudices in which we are reared with regard to the so-called ‘lower races’-

In 1891 Haddon incorporated these ideas into a radical critique of Imperial policy. It was rejected by the editors of a number of ‘monthlies’ before it was suppressed by Huxley in  January 1892, on the basis that it would not be acceptable to the Government.

Nevertheless, Haddon presented his case at a packed meeting of the Anthropological Secton of the British Association in 1895. He delivered a speech on the subject of interference with the civilisations of other races. It was widely interpreted as an attack on the Empire and its missionaries.

Haddon had attacked both church and state and, in the process, he had confronted the political culture of organised anthropology, especially institutional ambivalence to the extermination of other civilisations. These hardly consitute the actions of someone engaged in cultural zoology.

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9        The Malu Zogo te

Haddon returned to the field in 1898, when he organised the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait. He filmed a one minute sequence of the dance of the Malu Zogo Te, the islander who led an initiation ceremony on the Island of  Kiam. It was the earliest known use of film as an ethnographic medium.

 

 

Haddon used a phonograph to record the islanders. A photograph of the recording session was reproduced in Head-hunters, Black, White and Brown, a narrative account of his fieldwork in Oceania that Haddon published in 1901. The photograph shows Ulai singing and Gasu on drums, while Myers acts as recording engineer. This recording does not seem to have survived, but other recording made on the day can be streamed on the British Library website.

 

Malu Patterson

 

Stills grabbed from Haddon’s film are strikingly similar to the photographs taken by Patterson in Ballymiscaw in 1893, providing a visually striking illustration of the “fact” that Clara Patterson and Haddon were involved in a joint folklore project that incorporated anarchist ideas and constituted a form of anti-racism activism.

If we regard folklore as the practical wing of ethnology – as practiced by Haddon – then we really need to rethink our attitude to (1) his ethnological fieldwork in Ireland and (2) his engagements with cultural nationalists like Douglas Hyde.

 

10    Some Conclusions

Haddon was an internationalist, whose politics were shaped by (1) a philosophical understanding of the essential unity of the human species and (2) his experience of the devastating effect of colonialism in Ireland and the Torres Strait.

Haddon used photography to materialise ‘the common impulses and sympathies [that] link the extremes of human kind.’ He used the experience of that material to persuade his folklore collectors to look beyond the local and embrace the essential unity of human kind.

Whereas Hyde sought to define nationality through the particularity of folklore, Haddon sought to use the universality of folk traditions to confront ethnocentricity at home and its consequences for other civilisations overseas.

This was one half of Haddon’s most radical innovation. The other half was the application of revolutionary audio-visual technologies to the task of making the those civilisations meaningful at home.

 

Ciarán Walsh

 

 

Works Cited

Beiner, Guy, 2012, Revisiting F. J. Bigger: A “Fin-de-Siècle” Flourish of Antiquarian-Folklore Scholarship in Ulster. Béaloideas, 80, 142-162.

Cunningham, D. J., and A. C. Haddon, 1892, The Anthropometric Laboratory of Ireland. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 21, 1892, pp. 35–39.

Gomme, G. L.,

1890, The Village Community, with Special Reference to the Origin and Form of its Survivals in Britain (The Contemporary Science Series). New York: Scribner

1891, Annual Address to the Folk-Lore Society, November 26th, 1890. Folk-Lore 2 (1),1-30.Folklore 108 (1997): pp. 120-3.

Haddon, Alfred Cort,

1890, Incidents in the life of a Torres Straits islander, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine: A Popular Journal of General Literature, Science, and Politics. Vol XLV. (January to June, 1890). pp 567-572.

1891, A critique of the Imperial Institute (On the Need for a Bureau of Ethnology). (MSS, HP, CUL Folder 5061).

1901, Head-hunters; black, white, and brown. London: Methuen.

Hyde, Douglas, 1904, The necessity for de-Anglicising Ireland IN 1904 he Revival of Irish Literature: Addresses by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, KCMG, Dr. George Sigerson, and Dr Douglas Hyde (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1904), 117-161.

Jones, Greta, 1998, Contested Territories: Alfred Cort Haddon, Progressive Evolutionism and Ireland, History of European Ideas 24 (3): 195-211.

Kropotkin, Peter, 1885, What Geography Ought to Be, The Nineteenth Century, Vol. 18, pp. 940-56.

O’Giolláin, Diarmuid, (ed.), 2017, Irish Ethnologies, Indiana 46556: University of Notre Dame Press.

 

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The Skeleton of Cornelius Magrath: the controversy continues …

cornelius_magrath-portrait-de-longhi

Pietro Longhi, 1757, “True portrait of the Giant Cornelio Magrat the Irishman; he came to Venice in the year 1757; born 1st January 1737, he is 7 feet tall and weighs 420 pounds. Painted on commission from the Noble Gentleman Giovanni Grimani dei Servi, Patrician of Venice.” Museo di Rezzonico, Venice. Photograph: Osvaldo Böhm.

The short life of Cornelius Magrath

Cornelius Magrath was born 5 miles from Silvermines in County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1737. During his adolescence, he developed a rare disorder of the pituitary gland that caused some of his bones to grow excessively. Between the ages of 15 and 16 Magrath went from 5 feet to 6 feet 8.75 inches in height. He was later described in the London Magazine for August 1752 as being of gigantic stature, but boyish and clumsily made.

His extraordinary appearance attracted a lot of attention and he was persuaded to exhibit himself. He was put on show in Bristol and London in 1753, before touring extensively in Europe. In 1857 he was in Italy, where his portrait was painted by Longhi (see above). In 1760 he became ill in Flanders and returned to Dublin where he died on May 16th. He was 23 tears of age.

In 7 years Magrath had achieved considerable fame as the ‘Irish Giant’ and his death and dissection quickly became the stuff of legend. In 1833, a report claimed that he died as a result of an injury he sustained while performing as a giant in the Theatre Royal. Numerous other legends grew up around the ‘capture’ of his body by anatomists in Dublin University, Trinity College (TCD).

maag-small-copy

A promotional print engraved by Maag in Germany in 1756 to promote appearances by Magrath. This image has been produced from the negative of a photograph made by Daniel J. Cunningham in 1891. Courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

In 1890, Daniel J. Cunningham’s set out to establish the truth about Magrath’s stature and dispel some of the myth’s about his short life. Cunningham presented a report to the Royal Irish Academy in 1891, which remains the definitive account of the man and his skeleton. Cunningham confirmed that Magrath suffered from acromegaly and presented evidence that he was “positively deformed” as a result of this condition.

He was not the “well-built, proportioned, straight-limbed man” with pleasing and regular features as represented by Maag in 1756 (above). Swanzy built on Cunningham’s research and published a report in 1893 that confirmed significant deformation of Magrath’s eye sockets.  This is recorded by  in Longhi in his 1757 portrait, along with the disabling condition of “knock-knee” that was described by Cunningham.

In 1902, huge crowds attended a lecture on his skeleton that was given by Cunningham in Belfast. Curiosity in Magrath remains just as strong today judging by the current controversy over the retention by TCD of his skeleton. The controversy kicked off on the History Show on RTE Radio 1 and was picked up by chat show host Joe Duffy who argued that TCD should bury the skeleton of Cornelius Magrath because it had been ‘body snatched’ and his skeleton put on public display without his consent.

The Skeleton of Cornelius Magrath

The Skeleton of Cornelius Magrath is no longer on public display but is still held by the School of Anatomy in TCD. It is the most famous item in a historic collection of anatomy specimens, records, and instruments that is held in the ‘Old’ Anatomy Building. The building was decommissioned in 2014 and the collection is being resolved as part of post-grad research programme managed jointly by the School of Medicine TCD, Maynooth University, Kimmage Development Studies Centre, and the Irish Research Council.

Anthropo lab 2016 P1180364 600 dpi

Ciarán Walsh reconstructing the skull measuring device developed by Daniel J. Cunningham in the 1890s. The “Dublin Craniometer” is one of a number of anthropometrical instruments that were discovered when the ‘Old’ Anatomy building in Trinity College Dublin was being decommissioned in 2014. The skull, incidentally, is a plastic model. Photo: Ciarán Walsh.

I am employed as a full-time researcher on the project and resolving ethical issues relating to the retention of human remains is a major part of the work in hand. Indeed, the research proposal had to pass rigorous ethical approval procedures in Maynooth University, the School of Medicine TCD, and the IRC before I could get access to the ‘old’ Anatomy building and the collections held therein, which include the skeleton of Cornelius Magrath.

To bury or not to bury, that is the debate.

The Magrath “case” is interesting because there is no evidence that the body snatching story, however entertaining, is true. The only contemporary account of his death states simply that “Upon death, his body was carried to the Dissecting House,” but that account was probably written by either Robert Robinson, Professor of Anatomy in TCD, or Dr. George Cleghorn, the University anatomist (see Cunningham’s 1891 report to the Royal Irish Academy).

What we can say with some certainty is that Magrath died of a wasting disease (phthisis) and it is clear from the Robinson/Cleghorn account that he was receiving medical attention at the time of his death. It records that Magrath’s “complexion was miserably pale and sallow; his pulses very quick at times for a man of his extraordinary height; and his legs were swollen.” Elsewhere, it states that his pulse beat almost sixty times a minutes “on his arrival here.”  It sounds like Magrath was being cared for in the School of Medicine TCD when he died.

The body snatching legend, best described by Hooper,  has it that Magrath was being waked when medical students, egged on by Robinson, spiked the porter and made off with his body, which was immediately dissected in secret. Such a sensational body snatching could not have escaped notice and, furthermore, the dissection was both public knowledge and uncontroversial. Historians of anatomy in TCD have always believed that the body was paid for by Cleghorn and that the acquisition of the body was legitimate and ethical by the standards of the day. The problem here is that there is no documentary evidence of Magrath having consented to dissection or the permanent display of his skeleton.

Comparative Anatomy / Anthropological Museum, MS10961-1_22

The Anthropological Laboratory in TCD in 1891, from a cyanotype or blueprint of a  photograph taken by Charles R. Browne. The laboratory ceased operations in 1903 and its collections were reorganised in 1948. Courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

That brings us to the contemporary issue of retention or burial. The report of the Working Group on Human Remains in Museum Collections (WGHR), published in 2003,  set out public policy in relation to British Museums. The authors of the report acknowledged that human remains in collections “represent a unique and irreplaceable resource for the legitimate pursuance of scientific and other research” (p. 28)  but concluded that collections of human remains in museums should be subject to the sort of regulatory frameworks being developed for health authorities and hospitals in Britain (p. 81).

One of its principal finding was the need to remove legislative barriers to repatriation or burial by British museums, effectively making the ethical disposal of human remains in museum collections its default position (p. 20, para. 58). In 2004 the introduction of the Human Tissue Act allowed nine national museums to return human remains under 1,000 years old, where they consider it appropriate to do so. The British Museum rejected an application for repatriation in 2012  on grounds other than those provided for in the legislation, which illustrates the complexity of the issues involved and the need to consider claims for repatriation or burial on a case by case basis.

In terms of regulation in Ireland, the Human Tissue Bill has been stalled since 2013 and the Inspector of Anatomy, appointed by the Medical Council in the interim, has oversight of the ‘Old’ Anatomy collections in TCD. This leaves the burial of Magrath’s remains at the discretion of the college authorities; which means that any decision will have to deal with public perception as to the “morality” of retaining identifiable human remains in collections of scientific material. That is deeply problematic, and Duffy’s attempt to frame the issue in body snatching folklore is distorting what should be a valuable and timely debate.

References: 

British Museum,2012, Request for Repatriation of Human Remains to the Torres Strait Islands, Australia. Online document: http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/management/human_remains/repatriation_to_torres_strait.aspx

Cunningham, D. (1887). The Skeleton of the Irish Giant, Cornelius MagrathThe Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 29, 553-612. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30078824

Department of the Taoiseach, LEGISLATION PROGRAMME FOR AUTUMN SESSION 2013, Published:  18th September, 2013: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/irish/Foilseacháin/Foilseacháin_2013/LEGISLATION_PROGRAMME_FOR_AUTUMN_SESSION_2013.html

Hooper, A. (1987). Dublin Anatomy in the 17th and 18th CenturiesDublin Historical Record, 40(4), 122-132. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30100813

Human Tissue Act 2004, UK: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/30/contents

Report of The Working Group on Human Remains, November 2003,Dept. for Culture Media and Sport, Great Britain: http://www.museumsbund.de/fileadmin/geschaefts/dokumente/Leitfaeden_und_anderes/DCMS_Working_Group_Report_2003.pdf

Swanzy, H. (1893). Note on Defective Vision and Other Ocular Derangements in Cornelius Magrath, the Irish Giant. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1889-1901), 3, 524-528. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20490478

Trinity College, Dublin, 2016, The Academic and Artistic Collections – a summary: First produced February 2010; contact and website updates March 2016: http://www.tcd.ie/artcollections/assets/pdf/TCD%20Academic%20and%20Artistic%20Collections%20summary.pdf