One of our National Treasures: The biography of the skull of Turlough Carolan the Blind Harper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Many Irish musicians will have heard of Turlough Carolan (1670-1738), frequently referred to as the Blind Harper. Less well known is that his skull was exhumed in 1750, twelve years after he was buried. Since that year and throughout the nineteenth century, a human skull, declared to be that of Carolan, was displayed in various prestigious locations. In the early twentieth century it was received by the National Museum of Ireland, where it still resides. This paper traces the story of the skull from grave to museum stores, providing an insight into the fascination exerted by remains of the deceased and the special significance given in Ireland to the remains of a revered musician. The skull is where multiple histories meet: it embodies a record of customs in rural Ireland; it tells us something of the display of collections by Irish gentry and the middle classes; and it is a route into exploring the cultural meanings of our collections.
LanguageEnglish
Pages1-14
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the History of Collections
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2018

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National Treasure
Skull
Ireland
Musicians
Middle Class
National Museum
Gentry
History
Route

Keywords

  • material culture
  • ireland
  • human remains

Cite this

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title = "One of our National Treasures: The biography of the skull of Turlough Carolan the Blind Harper",
abstract = "Many Irish musicians will have heard of Turlough Carolan (1670-1738), frequently referred to as the Blind Harper. Less well known is that his skull was exhumed in 1750, twelve years after he was buried. Since that year and throughout the nineteenth century, a human skull, declared to be that of Carolan, was displayed in various prestigious locations. In the early twentieth century it was received by the National Museum of Ireland, where it still resides. This paper traces the story of the skull from grave to museum stores, providing an insight into the fascination exerted by remains of the deceased and the special significance given in Ireland to the remains of a revered musician. The skull is where multiple histories meet: it embodies a record of customs in rural Ireland; it tells us something of the display of collections by Irish gentry and the middle classes; and it is a route into exploring the cultural meanings of our collections.",
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