Trinity invites public to help choose new name for library

Berkeley Library was ‘denamed’ earlier this year following controversy over philosopher’s links to slavery

Trinity College Dublin is inviting submissions from the public to help choose a new name for its main library, formerly named after Irish philosopher George Berkeley.

The university removed his name earlier this year following a review triggered by a student petition, in response to Berkeley’s association with slavery.

Research by academics at the university uncovered documents that show Berkeley bought and sold slaves on his Rhode Island estate. He also produced a pamphlet suggesting that slaves should be baptised as it would encourage greater obedience to their owners.

The move was criticised at the time by some academics, who argued that the name was “of its time” and a tribute to Berkeley’s contribution to philosophical thought. Berkeley served as Church of Ireland Bishop of Cloyne and became a world-famous philosopher. The city of Berkeley, California and its university were named after him.


As Trinity librarian from 1709, Berkeley played an active role in bringing the project for a new library – now the Old Library – to fruition.

In addition to removing the name of its library, another legacy decision reached by Trinity earlier this year was the return of human remains to Inisbofin.

“We have an opportunity to show imagination in the renaming of this iconic library,” said librarian and college archivist Helen Shenton. “We encourage suggestions not just confined to people’s names but all sorts of options, including places, dates, concepts and more.”

Trinity is also inviting submissions from the public on future legacy issues, such as the storage of other human remains.

Trinity said it is working on a comprehensive inventory of the nature and origin of all human remains in its historic collections, which it says will “significantly improve its capacity to make informed decisions regarding current and future relevant inquiries”.

Trinity provost Dr Linda Doyle said moves formed part of the university’s commitment 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. This website [the Trinity Legacies website] offers us an important mechanism to do that.”

Eoin O’Sullivan, chair of the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group, said it wanted to consider further issues that “our complex legacy may prompt”.

“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,” he said.

The university said it was also conscious of the importance of aligning its approach with evolving national policy in this area.

The Department of Culture has this year established an expert committee to advise Government on issues relating to the restitution and repatriation of culturally sensitive objects in Ireland.

Submissions on these issues can be made by filling out forms on the Trinity Legacies website.

Submissions on the new library name are due by the end of January. Other legacy issue submissions will be considered in this round if submitted by the end of March. All accepted submissions will be published on Trinity’s website.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent