A Way for the Giant’s Cause: an examination of Irish indigeneity in the case of Charles Byrne

By Gretchen Allen

The body-snatchers they have come,

And made a snatch at me;

It’s very hard them kind of men

Won’t let a body be!

— Tom Hood’s verse on “Mary’s Ghost” (McAlister, 1974)


Stakeholders have argued over the rightful resting place for the skeleton of “Irish Giant” Charles Byrne ever since his body was taken by eminent surgeon John Hunter in 1783 and put on display in Hunter’s medical collection, now the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS). Previous analyses of the case have examined Hunter’s denial of Byrne’s wish to be buried at sea, Byrne’s potential genetic relatives, the moral repercussions of his continued display, and the legal status of his body (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; T. L. Muinzer, 2013; Nash, 2018). This paper will examine the case for the native Irish population of Northern Ireland as an indigenous community with a valid claim to Byrne’s remains. The reasons given by the RCS for not recognizing the Irish as an indigenous community with a valid repatriation claim over the remains of Charles Byrne are invalid, disingenuous, and perpetuate British oppression of the Irish in Northern Ireland.

Human remains in museums

Human remains in cultural collections are often fraught with controversy. Anthropologist Bettina Arnold attributes this to the “symbolic capital” of the dead, and explains that while human remains no longer have agency, their symbolic capital can compel the living into action (Arnold, 2014). In recent years, the living have been compelled to reevaluate their relationships with the dead as the colonial casualties in Western museums have inspired a wave of repatriation claims from indigenous communities (Arnold, 2014; Decrausaz, 2017). In addition to the repatriations themselves, there have been calls for museums to become spaces where ‘the return of ancestral remains be understood as part of a process of decolonisation in which there is space for discussion, disagreement and debate amongst all stakeholders’ (Morton, 2017).

In 2004, the UK addressed some of these concerns with the Human Tissue Act (HTA) codifying the lawful treatment of human remains (Human Tissue Act 2004, n.d.; The skeletons of colonialism …, 2002; Morton, 2017). Following passage of the HTA, which governed human remains less than 100 years old, experts from UK museums created a code of best practice regarding the human remains in museums, which became the Department for Culture, Museums, and Sport (DCMS) human remains policy in 2005 (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, n.d.). This policy has formed the basis of museum practices in the UK (BABAO, n.d.; Department for Culture, Media and Sport, n.d.; Museums and Archives Research Policy, 2012; Policy for the Care of Human Remains in Museum of London Collections, 2011; Wellcome Collection, 2018).

The DCMS policy advocates approaching repatriation in the spirit of cooperation, and promotes an ethical code of non-maleficence, respect for science, cooperative solidarity, and beneficence towards both the remains and their claimants. However, this policy allows a great deal of room for the collection’s discretion in validating repatriation claims, which can exacerbate friction between a museum’s concept of remains as specimens, and an indigenous claimant’s concept of them as a departed community member (Morton, 2017). This dichotomy is particularly apparent in the repatriation of human remains from medical collections.

John Hunter and the Body-snatchers

A nightwatchman disturbs a body-snatcher who has dropped the stolen corpse he had been carrying in a hamper, while the anatomist, William Hunter (1718-1783), runs away. Etching with engraving by W. Austin, 1773. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_nightwatchman_disturbs_a_body-snatcher_who_has_dropped_the_Wellcome_V0010463.jpg>

The medical and surgical collections of England arose to fill two purposes: the first was to advance the study of medicine in an era were dissection was stigmatized and cadavers were rare. In order to fuel dissections and acquire specimens, anatomists like preeminent 18th century surgeon John Hunter encouraged a market in “body-snatching”, wherein corpses were clandestinely exhumed and brought to Hunter and his colleagues (McAlister, 1974). As British law considered a corpse to be “nullius in bonis”, or the property of no one once its “owner” had died, the body-snatchers were not technically committing theft (Alberti, 2012; McAlister, 1974; T. L. Muinzer, 2013). The corpses would be dissected and preserved in Hunter’s collection; such was Hunter’s enthusiasm for dissection that when asked what medical books he recommended, ‘Hunter reportedly …  dragged [the man] into the dissecting room where, pointing at the corpses, Hunter exclaimed “These are my books!”‘(McAlister, 1974).

The second purpose was to medicalise racism through the collection of “evolutionary” human specimens (Decrausaz, 2017). Scientists were preoccupied with establishing a ‘hierarchy of race types’ using the corpses of indigenous people from British colonial holdings as “evidence” (Morton, 2017). A medicalised view of the indigenous dead as “specimens” helped strip their remaining humanity in the eyes of their examiners (Decrausaz, 2017). As one journalist put it, ‘To the Victorians, they were invaluable specimens crucial to the study of human evolution. Today, they are viewed by many as … grisly reminders of the worst excesses of colonialism’ (The skeletons of colonialism …, 2002). John Hunter avidly collected both medical and “evolutionary” specimens (McAlister, 1974; Morton, 2017).

The macabre nature of these collections in the public imagination was augmented by the horror of dissection and body-snatching after death. The relatives of the recently deceased would often take measures to prevent their loved ones from being exhumed–often unsuccessfully, as anatomists would sometimes wait for the death of the protective relative before unearthing someone’s bones (Cunningham, 1887). Part of the public’s anathema to dissection was its use as a posthumous humiliation for executed murderers; their public dissection was considered a further punishment, described in the Murder Act of 1752 as a ‘terror and a mark of infamy’ (McAlister, 1974; T. L. Muinzer, 2013). It did not help that 18th century hangings often resulted in a scrum of medical students trying to outrun the deceased’s relatives to the corpse (McCorristine, 2015). It was therefore considered deeply shameful to be dissected after death, and it was a fate people took great measures to avoid.

The case of Charles Byrne

Figure 1: Charles Byrne, a giant, George Cranstoun,
a dwarf, and three other normal sized men.
Etching by J. Kay, 1794. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:

Charles Byrne, the self-styled “Irish Giant”, was a Catholic, Irish-speaking man born around 1761 in what is now Northern Ireland (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974; Nash, 2018). As the result of a pituitary condition later known as acromegaly, Byrne grew to a height of seven feet and seven inches (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011). He made his living by exhibiting himself as a curiosity and became wildly popular (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974). He moved to London, where his health began to fail due to his acromegaly, tuberculosis, and the alcohol he used to mitigate his physical pain (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974; T. L. Muinzer, 2013; Nash, 2018). Before Byrne’s death, John Hunter offered to buy his corpse so that he could examine and exhibit the Irish Giant’s unusual skeleton–Byrne refused, horrified that his body might suffer the same fate as executed criminals (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974; Nash, 2018). Charles Byrne died in 1783 at only 22 years of age, but before he passed he requested to be buried at sea in a lead coffin where he could not be recovered by ambitious anatomists, especially John Hunter (Bergland, 1965; Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974; Nash, 2018).

Despite these precautions, four years after Byrne’s death an unusually tall skeleton appeared in Hunter’s collection (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974). While Hunter’s method for acquiring Byrne’s bones is unknown, scenarios posited by researchers and contemporaneous journalists involve Hunter bribing the undertaker transporting Byrne to spirit his corpse to Hunter’s home while Byrne’s weighted coffin was sunk into the sea (Bergland, 1965; Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974). Then, desperate to conceal the switch, Hunter boiled the flesh from Byrne’s bones and hid the resulting skeleton until it was revealed four years later (Bergland, 1965; Daley, 2018; Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; McAlister, 1974). When the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) purchased and displayed John Hunter’s collection in the Hunterian museum in 1799, Charles Byrne became the involuntary star of a museum named for the man who had stolen and desecrated his corpse (Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; T. Muinzer & Greenfieldboyce, 2017).

Equally disturbing is the glee with which Byrne’s death and presumed theft were documented in the press. Byrne and Hunter were both celebrities, and the newspapers treated the event like a celebrity prize fight: the Irish Giant vs. the Great Surgeon (McAlister, 1974). Charles Byrne is believed to have died on or around June 1, 1783: an article from a London paper dated June 5 read, ‘The whole tribe of surgeons put in claims for the poor departed Irish Giant and surrounded his house just as Greenland harpooners would an enormous whale’ (Bergland, 1965). Several journalists published play-by-play narratives of the “chase” of Byrne’s coffin: ‘Byrne’s body was shipped on board a vessel in the river last night … where it is to be sunk in twenty fathom water: the body-snatchers, however, are determined to pursue their valuable prey … and have therefore provided a pair of diving bells’ (McAlister, 1974).

Several papers described Byrne as a lazy Irish drunkard (Bergland, 1965; McAlister, 1974). One callous notice in the Annual Register on June 30, 1783 attributes Byrne’s death entirely to alcohol (‘to which he was always addicted’) and assumes the theft has taken place: ‘We have reason to believe, however, that this report [that Byrne was buried at sea] is merely a ‘tub thrown out to the whale’. It is said that John Hunter bribed the undertaker to substitute stones for the body, forwarding the body to Hunter who took it in his carriage to Earl’s Court’ (Bergland, 1965). Less than a month after Byrne’s death, it was already publicly accepted that his body had been stolen.

In addition to the morbid fascination the public had with Charles Byrne and his body, these press articles show several things: first, that Charles Byrne’s last wishes to be buried at sea were widely known and publicized at the time of his death. Second, that John Hunter’s interest in Byrne’s body was also known and publicized, and his sordid acquisition practices were openly acknowledged to the point where his theft of Byrne’s corpse was a foregone conclusion. Third, that Byrne’s wish to be buried at sea was known to be a measure for escaping John Hunter. That Hunter acquired Byrne’s bones anyway apparently surprised no one, as the public had literally followed the “snatching” in the press from the day Byrne died. Despite all this openness, however, that Hunter felt the need to conceal his theft of Byrne’s body for several years suggests that while it was not technically illegal, there was still a strong element of moral opprobrium to Hunter’s deed.

Charles Byrne’s skeleton remains a core specimen of the Hunterian collection, and is still on display in the Hunterian Museum at the RCS in London (T. L. Muinzer, 2018). Byrne’s disturbing history has inspired scholars and the public to call for his removal from display and reburial, either in the sea as he had stipulated or in his native Northern Ireland at a site called “The Giant’s Grave” (Daley, 2018; Doyal & Muinzer, 2011; T. L. Muinzer, 2013; The skeletons of colonialism …, 2002). Scholars and members of the public have petitioned RCS on behalf of the Irish people to repatriate someone they perceive as an Irish casualty of British colonialism, still being retained and displayed as an artefact of British dominion over Ireland at the time Byrne lived and died (Morton, 2017; T. L. Muinzer, 2013, 2018; Nash, 2018). Up to this point, after taking the matter under consideration, the RCS have refused to repatriate Byrne, or remove him from open display (Alberti, 2012; T. L. Muinzer, 2018; Nash, 2018; Smith, Knüsel, Chamberlain, & Mitchell, 2012).

Regarding Byrne’s continued exhibition, RCS insists that their “dignified and considered” exhibition of Byrne’s skeleton is appropriate and tasteful, an opinion supported by members of the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) (Morton, 2017; Smith et al., 2012). As for Byrne’s demand not to be anatomized or displayed, spokespeople for the RCS (Alberti, 2012; T. Muinzer & Greenfieldboyce, 2017), including the director of the RCS Museums and Archives Dr. Sam Alberti, make the case that as those wishes were only reported “third-hand” in the press there is no way to confirm Byrne’s desires–though he allows that ‘it is likely … that Byrne was uncomfortable at the prospect of dissection’ (2012b). The RCS also argues that Byrne’s display is an opportunity to educate both medical professionals and the public on the history of body-snatching, which Alberti cagily calls ‘very differen[t] to the ways medical museums collect today’ (Alberti, 2012a).

The reasons given by the RCS for not repatriating Charles Byrne focus on his status as a pathological specimen in a collection meant for medical research. RCS supporters BABAO have a default policy for museums to retain human remains ‘with significant research potential’ (BABAO, n.d.). Pointing to the medical discoveries made using Byrne’s skeleton, namely an example of the pituitary adenoma that causes uncontrollable skeletal growth and subsequent genetic research using Byrne’s DNA, Alberti contends that there is no way to predict what future scientists could learn from the remains, and that removing them would hinder further investigation (Alberti, 2012b).

The RCS also claims that Byrne is not subject to the same moral claims made by indigenous groups for the repatriation of bones collected for Hunter’s racist “evolutionary” collections, since he was collected for his condition rather than his ethnicity (Nash, 2018). The RCS also contests the right of the Irish people to claim Byrne’s body on the grounds of shared indigenous culture, insisting instead that the people with the most legitimate claim are others with the same genetic mutation that causes acromegaly (Alberti, 2012; Daley, 2018).

The case for the Irish as an indigenous population

Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.

(Morton, 2017)

In establishing whether a community can claim “kinship” with Byrne, one must define an indigenous community (Nash, 2018). The DCMS define a cultural community as ‘a group who identifies themselves as a community and … have a shared geographical location, shared cultural or spiritual and religious beliefs and shared language’ (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, n.d.). More specifically, the common definition for “indigenous communities” comes from Martinez Cobo’s 1986 report for the UN:

For a British medical collection, its specimens are often artefacts of colonialism as much as pathological examples. Stripping these bodies of their social context through the “medical gaze” can actually deepen the effects of colonial domination, as the continued “othering” of indigenous remains marks their communities ‘as a resource for exploitation’ (Morton, 2017).

Figure 4: Part of the Hunterian Collections on display at The Royal College of Surgeons of England, photo taken by Paul Dean September 2007 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hunterian_Collection.jpg&gt;

At the heart of the Charles Byrne repatriation claim is whether the Irish have the same right as an indigenous community to make a repatriation case as the native communities of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States (US). This specifically refers to the Irish people currently living in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It does not refer to places where people of Irish descent have assimilated into the dominant white colonial community, as in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US. The rhetoric surrounding the Charles Byrne case echoes the UK’s centuries-long domination of Ireland, from England’s initial invasion up to the present day arguments surrounding the Irish Backstop (McGrath, 2019). Ireland was England’s “First Colony”, and centuries of oppression disenfranchised Ireland’s Catholic population in favor of the Protestant land-owning class imported from Great Britain (Ireland—The first Colony—History of England, n.d.; Judd, 1996). Schools and universities were segregated by religion, and Irish immigrants in the UK were often relegated to menial work and subjected to cruel stereotyping as ignorant, lazy alcoholics (Judd, 1996; Kearns, 2014; Mac An Ghaill, 2001).

These attitudes were endemic in UK society, with renowned 18th century Scottish philosopher (and Byrne contemporary) David Hume remarking that the Irish are ‘buried in the most profound barbarism and ignorance’ (Judd, 1996). This racist ideology was heavily responsible for the catastrophic death toll during the Great Famine, as “savage” British policies blamed the starvation on Irish overpopulation: ‘The Irish survivors would not only have learned a lesson about improvident fertility but after their period in the workhouse they might have been imbued with that thriftiness upon which the British so prided themselves’ (Kearns, 2014).

Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley demonstrated the depth of British racism toward the Irish when he wrote ‘… to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins … are as white as ours’ (Mac An Ghaill, 2001). These simmering resentments led to decades of sectarian violence during The Troubles following the partition of Northern Ireland, though the UK often fails to factor those struggles into modern postcolonial thought: ‘For British anti-racism, … more recent events such as the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles appear to be both more intrinsically interesting … than the thirty year war in Northern Ireland in explaining the British state’s policy of race relations’ (Mac An Ghaill, 2001).

To this day, “othering” sentiment can still pervade British/Irish discourse. A website called Historyofengland.net, purporting to be a historical reference site, claims that ‘The Irish have always been noted for a complete disregard for time’ and calls the Irish Catholic population in Northern Ireland ‘a bigoted religious minority trapped in a hostile country’ (Ireland—The first Colony—History of England, n.d.). The dogmatic repression of the Irish language by British parties continues to this day in Northern Ireland. As journalist Ceimin Burke explains, ‘Language is routinely a flashpoint in Northern Ireland politics, such as when the word ‘Uisce’ appeared on Ballymena manhole covers or when the DUP’s Gregory Campbell was barred from addressing Stormont for a day for mocking Irish and refusing to apologise’ (Burke, 2018).

The 2018 Irish Language Act was an effort to include Irish in Northern Irish public spaces and road signage; it was denounced by Unionist parties and as of 2019 has yet to pass (Burke, 2018). Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster responded to the bill, ‘if we have an Irish Language Act, maybe we should have a Polish Language Act as well, because there are more people in Northern Ireland that speak Polish than speak Irish’ (according to an investigation by thejournal.ie, this claim is false) (MacGuill, 2018). Mac An Ghaill illuminates the Irish post-colonial experience: ‘For many of those of Irish origin, the British involvement in Northern Ireland and their own national and ethnic sense of belonging to Ireland means that they actively disidentify with the British and Britishness’ (Mac An Ghaill, 2002).

One reason Irish advocates for Byrne’s repatriation have found RCS’s refusal so frustrating is RCS’s history of returning ill-gotten remains to indigenous populations. Most of these bodies were collected as specimens of “lesser” humans in Hunter’s “evolutionary” collection as examples of Pacific Islander ethnicities (Morton, 2017). In her doctoral thesis on repatriation in RCS collections, Sarah Morton summarizes, ‘In December 2001, The Royal College of Surgeons of England agreed to return all human remains of Tasmanian Aboriginal origin … to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community. Since then, the College has repatriated human remains to Australia, New Zealand and … Hawaii’ (Morton, 2017). College President Sir Peter Morris explained their decision to repatriate, saying there was ‘no meaningful research that the remains could be used for, that could not be done in Australia with the collaboration and permission of the original peoples’ (Morton, 2017).

These remains had been collected to uphold racist ideology and the museum’s policies specifically address the need for “sympathetic” attitudes towards the repatriation of Pacific Islander and Native American remains (Alberti, 2012; Morton, 2017; Museums and Archives Research Policy, 2012). This would suggest that RCS only repatriates the non-Europeans in its collection, but there have been two cases where European bodies were repatriated: ‘in 2004 the skeletal remains of the ‘red barn murderer’ William Corder were returned to his relatives for cremation and six pathology specimens removed at post-mortems of Jewish victims carried out by the Red Cross team working at Bergen-Belsen … in 1945 were handed over to the United Synagogue Burial Society’ (Morton, 2017). These returns set a precedent that European remains can be repatriated even in the case of pathological specimens if the deceased’s identity is known and if the remains were the result of historical injustice.

As Catherine Nash emphasizes, ‘debates about a resting place for the remains of an Irish ‘giant’ … are refracted through the practices and politics of the repatriation of human remains to indigenous communities’ (Nash, 2018). One RCS repatriation bears a striking resemblance to Byrne’s situation, and could also provide precedent. Truganini, the only survivor of the British massacre of the indigenous Tasmanians, passed away almost a century after Byrne, but their experiences rhyme (Morton, 2017). Like Byrne, she requested a sea burial to avoid exhumation by British scientists (Morton, 2017).

Truganini’s remains were misappropriated after her death in 1876 by colonial authorities: ‘In 1878 the Royal Society’s[sic] had their application to disinter Truganini granted on the understanding her remains would not go on display, yet in 1905 Truganini’s remains became an exhibit in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’ and samples from her corpse were collected by the RCS (Morton, 2017). As the last “full-blooded” native Tasmanian, Truganini was considered just as “unique” a specimen as Byrne–however, despite the similarities of the two cases, the samples RCS had from Truganini’s remains were repatriated back to the Tasmanian aboriginal community while Byrne remains on display (Morton, 2017). Truganini was cremated in Tasmania in 1976, her ashes scattered in the sea (Florek, 2016).


Truganini’s case shows a path for Charles Byrne, provided Irish indigeneity is accepted by the RCS. There is no ambiguity about Charles Byrne’s identity or nationality. He is not an anonymous, “pre-consent culture” skeleton; even the former director of the Glasgow Hunterian acknowledges that a claim is strong if it pertains to a ‘specific individual’ (Devlin, 2018; The skeletons of colonialism … 2002). Pathologist Phillippe Charlier reiterates: ‘[i]f one can name the body (and if its descendants ask for a repatriation or for religious ceremonies such as inhumation, cremation or buried at sea), no one authority will ethically be able to go against this moral will’ (Charlier, 2012).

The Irish population of Northern Ireland is a textbook example of both the DCMS and UN definitions of an indigenous community. Byrne was Catholic and spoke Irish in colonized Ireland, and experienced anti-Irish racism (Nash, 2018).Through the Catholic religion, continuous inhabitation of Ulster, Irish language, and history of oppression by the British, the Irish have continuity with Byrne as described in the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, n.d.). The Irish community perpetuates ‘pre-invasion’ Irish culture, and through their continued preservation of the Irish language and traditions in an British-dominated state, they have shown themselves ‘determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity’ despite continued marginalisation, as the UN requires (Morton, 2017).

Denying Byrne’s Irishness as an innate part of his identity perpetuates British marginalisation of Irish communities in Northern Ireland. Despite RCS’s insistence that Byrne is purely a pathological specimen, he is still part of a tradition in which colonized peoples, including Europeans, were exploited for medical gain (Decrausaz, 2017). RCS acknowledged as much when they repatriated pathological samples made from Holocaust victims (Morton, 2017). British oppression in Northern Ireland is ongoing: references to the Troubles and the “black and tans” are still being made in the comments of the Change.org petition to “Free Charles Byrne” (McKee, 2017). In fact, RCS’s “dignified” display of Byrne’s skeleton contains anti-Irish sentiment: ‘the panel of text accompanying the skeleton evokes English colonial discourses of Irish primitivism by including the description of him by an English surgeon as ‘an ill-bred disagreeable beast’’ (Nash, 2018). Byrne’s skeleton is a tourist attraction, with guards preventing visitors from posing for photos with him: one guard lamented ‘[posing for photos with Byrne] was not very respectful and created the wrong atmosphere in the gallery’ (Morton, 2017). Even if RCS sincerely intends to display Byrne respectfully, that intent is absent in practice and victimizes him further.

RCS claims that people with the same acromegaly gene as Byrne have a stronger claim than the Irish, as they have a “shared ancestor” (Alberti, 2012; Smith et al., 2012). However, only one person from that community has publicly backed RCS’s retention; repatriation has received support from the Irish public, Irish scholars, and the wider medical community (Charlier, 2014; Decrausaz, 2017; Doyal & Muinzer, 2011, 2012; T. Muinzer & Greenfieldboyce, 2017; Nash, 2018). Despite the RCS’s position, Byrne’s remains are ‘nationalised’; Nash explains, ‘they are nationalised through the way in which the Museum’s resistance to their repatriation implies that origins matter in decisions about the treatment of human remains’ (Nash, 2018). Because he is Irish rather than Tasmanian, they will not validate the claim: Byrne’s Irishness enables the RCS to continue to objectify his remains (Decrausaz, 2017; Nash, 2018).

Even though England and Northern Ireland are now part of the UK, they are still two distinct countries, and the legacy of one conquering the other is inextricable from the case of Charles Byrne (T. L. Muinzer, 2013). Thomas Muinzer, a Northern Irish legal scholar and one of Byrne’s repatriation advocates, argues that the Irish have a “robust” identity that should be recognized as an indigenous community, and according to the definitions that the RCS incorporated into its own policies, the Irish qualify (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, n.d.; Museums and Archives Research Policy, 2012). Mac An Ghaill writes on how the British overlook how the marginalization of the Irish affects their current dynamic, citing a common sentiment that the “Irish can’t forget”, and the “British can’t remember” that speaks to the denial of indigneous agency inherent in this case (Mac An Ghaill, 2001). Nash (2008) agrees, saying ‘The postcoloniality of the UK’s relation to Ireland is characterised by limited awareness of that very postcoloniality’. With Charles Byrne, RCS has been handed an opportunity to acknowledge that postcolonial injustice, and should take it.

About the author: Gretchen Allen is a Book and Paper Conservator living and working in Ireland. She earned her BA in Art Conservation from Scripps College (Claremont, CA, USA), her MA in Conservation from Camberwell College of Arts (London, UK), and her PGCert in Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime from the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, UK). Aside from the criminological aspects of the art market, Gretchen’s academic interests include conservation of items damaged during historical conflicts and the conservation and creation of illuminated manuscripts. Gretchen is trained in traditional Celtic illumination techniques and enjoys drawing, painting, and printmaking.

Disclaimer: this article is intended for educational purposes, and does not purport to provide legal advice. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.


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