Trinity College Dublin ponders de-naming Berkeley library

Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin (founded 1592) will shortly decide whether or not to retain the name of its largest library, which is called after Irish philosopher and former slave owner in the United States Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753).

The outcome will be of interest to the University of California (UC), Berkeley and Berkeley city, both of which are named after him, and to Yale University where there have been calls from student activists to rename one of its colleges which also bears his name.

A Trinity Legacies Review Working Group has been examining the issue of the library following a demand by the students’ union that it be de-named. The group was set up to document the historical evidence on specific legacy issues, to seek evidence-based submissions from the college and wider community on each identified issue, and, based on the evidence collated, provide options for consideration to the relevant decision-makers.

It will within the next few weeks submit a report to the provost, Dr Linda Doyle, who will bring it to the college board for a final decision. The options are to retain the existing name, to retain and explain it (perhaps through wording on a plaque) or de-name it. The group will also outline options for three portraits, a stained-glass window and two gold medal awards, all of which commemorate Berkeley.

Racism accusations

The fact that the former bishop, hailed as a brilliant philosopher, purchased slaves when he was in the US was the catalyst for the call by the students’ union last year. Critics also cited his views which would now be called racist.

In his book A Word to the Wise he described the Irish poor as “a lazy destitute race” and added that “these people are more destitute than savages and more abject than Negros. The Negros in our plantations have a saying ‘if Negro was not Negro, Irishman would be Negro’.”

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