Trinity College Dublin will deliver human remains, including 13 skulls, to the Irish island of Inishbofin. .
They were kept at Trinity after being removed from an island cemetery more than a century ago by two academics.
Dr. Linda Doyle, provost of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), has expressed regret for the distress caused by the university's ownership of the remains.
Inishbofin residents had requested TCD return the remains and had referred to their taking as theft.
The university announced that it would now consult with islanders to determine the best method for returning them.
With a population of about 170, Inishbofin, also referred to as the Island of the White Cow, is located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of County Galway.
Alfred Cort Haddon and Andrew Francis Dixon, who would later hold the position of Professor of Anatomy at Trinity College, sailed to Inishbofin in 1890 pretending to be conducting a fishing survey.
But without the community's knowledge, they stole 13 people's partial skeletons, along with their skulls, from the island's St. Colman's monastery.
At the time, anthropometry—the scientific measurement of people—and craniometry—the measurement of the head—were both of interest.
In his diary, Haddon wrote down what happened on Inishbofin.
The remains have been kept in the former anatomy museum at TCD since that time, but the university's governing board has now declared that they should be brought back to Inishbofin.
That came after Trinity's Legacies Review Working Group looked into the matter.
The review group started by looking at the Inishbofin remains, but they are also investigating Trinity's connections to slavery and the British Empire.
For instance, the 18th-century slave owner and philosopher George Berkeley is honored in the name of TCD's library.
In 2022, Hawaii received human remains and other holy items from National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI).
At a ceremony held at the Ulster Museum, representatives from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs were presented with two different sets of human remains, including a skull, and five sacred objects.
It and some other UK museums have looked into possible connections to the slave trade and are taking requests for the return of objects to Australia, Asia, and South America into consideration.
On Inishbofin, however, their fellow Irish citizens were actually the ones whose remains TCD was supposed to return.
A petition demanding the return and denouncing "the criminal nature of how these remains came into the possession of Trinity College in the first place" was signed by more than 150 of the island's current residents.
In a letter to Trinity, the Inishbofin Development Company claimed that the remains had been "removed illegally without permission.".
They were buried in a sacred location and deserved to rest in peace there because they were a part of the island community of Inishbofin, according to their letter.
Dr. Linda Doyle apologized for the "upset that was caused by our retaining of these remains and I thank the Inishbofin community for their advocacy and engagement with us on this issue" in a statement following TCD's decision to return the remains.
In order to return the remains respectfully and in accordance with the community's wishes, she continued, "we will now work with the community."