After 280 years Trinity finally unveils busts to women in Long Room

Four sculptures to be included alongside those of 40 men who already inhabit library

Trinity College Dublin’s (TCD) Long Room is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, but it also contains ugly reminders of how the patriarchy dominated academic discourse for millenniums.

All 40 of the marble busts that ordain the shelves of the Long Room of the Old Library are men, from Homer, Aristotle and Plato through to Wolfe Tone and the Duke of Wellington. The first busts were erected in 1743 and in the intervening 280 years, nobody saw fit to include a woman.

That omission has now being remedied with the inclusion of four busts representing women, the first new statues in the university for more than a century.

The statues were unveiled on St Brigid’s Day by TCD’s first female librarian Helen Shenton, its first female Provost Professor Linda Doyle and by the former President of Ireland and now TCD chancellor Mary McAleese.


Ms Shenton said the 750,000 books in the room, currently being removed to allow for the installation of a new security system, represented the best of mankind, before correcting herself to say “humankind”.

“I don’t think there is a better way to celebrate St Brigid’s Day,” said Prof Doyle. “It took us intentionally intervening to make this change happen.”

Mrs McAleese, a former student of Trinity, said “gender diversity and inclusion were a long time arriving in Trinity. We are the lucky generation to be here to see the springtide. To see Brigid’s sail raised to catch the wind, to see great women given the respect and recognition they deserve.”

In 2020 a panel, chaired by the then Provost Patrick Prendergast, received well over 500 nominations covering a wide field of women scholars for inclusion in the Long Room.

The most famous of the four chosen was Lady Augusta Gregory, one of the creative powerhouses behind the Irish literary revival and a champion of WB Yeats.

The others include Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who helped design the first analytical engine (general-purpose computer) in 1843. Another new arrival is Mary Wollstonecraft, whose book A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792, was considered a foundational text for women’s rights movements worldwide.

The world of science is represented by Rosalind Franklin who died tragically from cancer aged just 37, but her work on both the structure of DNA and RNA might have won the Nobel Prize had she lived long enough to claim it.

Artist Vera Klute embarked on the Franklin commission despite knowing nothing about her subject. “Not many people know anything about her. She got overlooked. Hopefully this will help put her on the map a little bit,” Ms Klute said.

The other artists are Guy Reid (Augusta Gregory), Maudie Brady (Ada Lovelace) and Rowan Gillespie (Mary Wollstonecraft).

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times