Irish university looks for new library name as slave-owning philosopher Berkeley dropped

Trinity College Dublin invites public input on other legacy issues, such as human remains in its historic collections

The Trinity College library in Dublin was named after the Irish philosopher George Berkeley. Alamy
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One of Ireland’s most respected universities is searching for a new library name after removing the name of a slave trader from its walls.

Trinity College Dublin has invited submissions from the public to suggest a new name for Berkeley library – which was named after Irish philosopher and slave owner George Berkeley.

“We have an opportunity to show imagination in the renaming of this iconic library,” said librarian and college archivist Helen Shenton.

Trinity is also seeking public input on other legacy issues where 21st century sensibilities clash with the values held by previous generations, said The Irish Times, which first reported the library-naming initiative.

“We encourage suggestions not just confined to people’s names but all sorts of options, including places, dates, concepts and more,” Ms Shenton said.

One of the legacy issues is the treatment of human remains in its historic collections.

The university's provost Dr Linda Doyle said Trinity was committed to “fundamental values of human dignity, equality, freedom and inclusion”.

“We aim to always be a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment for individuals across a broad spectrum of backgrounds and viewpoints,” she said.

“For these reasons, it is important for us to listen to as many voices as possible, as we embark on a further evidence-based review of legacy issues."

Trinity removed Berkeley’s name from the library in May after a student campaign forced the change.

Berkeley was known to have sold and owned slaves in what is now the US state of Rhode Island and researchers also found a pamphlet discussing the forced baptism of slaves.

Berkeley also played an active role in organising the construction of the library and was known as a philosopher who specialised as an idealist and held the belief that there were no material substances.

Critics have suggested it was wrong to rename the library because it was a decision of its time.

Eoin O’Sullivan, of the Trinity legacies review working group, said: “As before, our emphasis will be on evidence-led deliberations. Members of the public will be asked to include in their suggestions as much detail and evidence as possible about the issue and its connection with Trinity.”

The university is also working with the Irish government to keep in line with developing standards in areas such as the repatriation of culturally sensitive objects in Ireland.

Updated: November 16, 2023, 1:37 PM