Education Content

Education is at the heart of The Heritage Councils work programme.  With knowledge comes a greater sense of responsibility and appreciation of the value of Heritage as it contributes to our quality of life.

The Irish ‘Headhunter’ Exhibition

How did one explain the presence of a primitive (white) race living in the back yard of the United Kingdom — at the height of the British Empire? Scientists based in Trinity College Dublin attempted to do just that by documenting the physical characteristics and habits of  communities in the remotest parts of Ireland. Starting in Aran in 1891, they moved along the west coast and finished up in Carna in 1900. The whole thing was recorded by Charles R. Browne and his associates on a new generation of portable cameras using plates and rolled film, the latest in photographic technology at the time. They took more than photos however, they were the Irish ‘headhunters.’

Alive or dead, the head of the Irish native was at the centre of all of their research, cranial capacity (brain size) and physiognomy being regarded as the key to unlocking the mystery of the origins of the Irish race. Specimens — the skulls of dead islanders — were collected and lodged in the Museum of Comparative Anatomy in TCD. Live heads were also taken … with a camera. These anthropometric portraits were contextualised with photographs of “the occupations, modes of transport, and habitations of the people, also several of the antiquities of the district, and a set of views showing surface of land and nature of coastline, etc.”

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‘Charles R. Browne: The Irish Headhunter’ presents in exhibition, for the first time ever, the photographs collected by Charles R. Browne. These are held in the Research Collection and Manuscripts Library of Trinity College Dublin. They have been scanned and reproduced especially for this exhibition and it is the first time most of them will have been seen in public.

This is probably the most important photographic archive to come into the public domain. It is supported by written reports — ethnographies — that are held in the Royal Irish Academy. Browne’s archive is singular in terms of its depiction of life on the west coast of Ireland in the 1890s. The anthropological inquiry — and the headhunting — that motivated it is one of the best kept secrets in Ireland.

The exhibition tours Ireland in 2012/13, revisiting the communities surveyed by Browne and engaging with them through an outreach and education programme. The project was undertaken by curator, Ciarán Walsh and received €4,000 in grant-aid from the Heritage Council in 2012.

The exhibition runs in the National Museum: Museum of Country Life, Castlebar, Co. Mayo from Jan - May 2013.

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Flash is required!

This project received grant-aid of €4,000 under the Heritage Education, Community and Outreach Scheme 2012.