Former pro-Chancellor of the university David McConnell has called on College not to rename the Berkeley Library, saying that doing so would “do great damage to the works of one of the great scholars of this College”.
In a submission to the Legacies Review Working Group, McConnell said that while pressure to rename the library “has opened a useful discussion”, to do so would not be “a significant contribution…to the rectification of wrongs that still permeate western society”.
McConnell has also been president of the College Historical Society (the Hist) since 2003, a position held by an alumnus of the society rather than a current student. His term as a pro-Chancellor ended in 2019.
His 3,000 word submission details George Berkeley’s influential contributions to philosophy and arguments in defence of retaining the library’s current name.
“His reputation offers us a way of drawing attention to slavery. Removing his name from the Library will hide rather than expose his connection with slavery,” it says of Berkeley.
Last August, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) called for the immediate denaming of the library, referring to it instead as “the X Library” in all official communications since then.
Berkeley, who attended Trinity, being made a Fellow in 1707, owned at least four slaves and ideologically supported slavery and settler colonialism.
These facts are documented in a paper by Trinity academics Dr Mobeen Hussain, Dr Ciaran O’Neill and Dr Patrick Walsh, though McConnell says that they have “never been denied and [were] well known”. McConnell also criticises the paper for saying “little about Berkeley’s intellectual legacy”.
The submission praises Berkeley’s intellectual achievements: “There must be something special about Berkeley. And of course there was and is – he was and remains one of the most remarkable thinkers of the modern age.”
McConnell says that in removing Berkeley’s name from the library, “we are being asked to use modern standards to condemn Berkeley for living in the 18th century with his contemporary standards”.
He adds that “it would be a travesty of all Trinity stands for today, in essence its commitment to intellectual enquiry, to write Berkeley out of our history”.
“In my opinion it would be completely wrong to take his name off the New Library, or to take down his portraits, or to remove the Berkeley Window from the Chapel. Instead we should do much more to explain why Berkeley has been so influential in philosophy, science and mathematics.”
The submission expresses the hope that “discussion of Berkeley will help us to keep slavery at the forefront of our thinking and that of succeeding generations – we owe it to those who still suffer the consequences of that horrendous practice that was common in western civilisation”.
“One thing is clear, that we should focus more efforts on dealing with the consequences of these horrors in the modern world rather than superficially re-writing the history. Taking a name off a library is much easier than finding ways of making sure people understand slavery and never forget it.”
Established in November, the Legacies Review Working Group invited “evidence-based” submissions regarding the renaming of the library in question.
Other suggestions include the 1904 Library, to commemorate the year women were admitted to Trinity, the Wolfe Tone Library, submitted by Ógra Shinn Féin TCD, and “The Library Formerly Known as The Berkeley”.