Monthly Archives: April 2013

“Encountering Buddhist Asia” exhibition at Maynooth

Monday April 29th saw the launch of the exhibition “Encountering Buddhist Asia: sources of Irish knowledge from the 6th to the 21st centuries” at the Russell Library, Maynooth. The Russell is a great venue and very appropriate for such a wide-ranging collection. The Library staff had done amazing work on the exhibition – finding images for the free-standing posters, identifying extra items for the display cases, and presenting the items – and it was a real education to see all these connections between Ireland and Buddhist Asia together in one space.

We have a Sunday Independent report on U Dhammaloka from 1911, a CV from Charles Pfoundes who led the first Buddhist mission to the west in 1889 – 92, a hedge school textbook with Aesop’s Fables from 1815, a text on missionary work by a clandestine missionary to Ireland in 1660, collections of early modern travel narratives from the 18th century, items by early Irish Buddhist sympathisers and converts as well as a range of Catholic responses from the scholarly to the polemic – it is a very diverse collection showing the range of encounters between Ireland and the Buddhist world.

Many thanks to all the Library staff who supported and worked on the exhibition, and to Rachel Pisani and Mihirini Sirisena who described their recent research in US and South Asian archives in pursuit of Dhammaloka. The exhibition runs till July 12th. The library is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; all are welcome and admission is free but you need to email or phone 01-708 3890 in advance to arrange your visit.

For details of related public events in Cork (May 8th) and Dublin (May 10 – 12) please see here; for digitised texts related to the encounter between Ireland and the Buddhist world please see here.


Events update: Maynooth exhibition, Cork seminar, Dublin conference

Full details of these events are now available here.

These include the speaking order for the launch of the Maynooth exhibition “Encountering Buddhist Asia: sources of Irish knowledge from the sixth to the twenty-first centuries” (Monday April 29th) and for the UCC seminar “Uncovering hidden histories: U Dhammaloka and early western Buddhists” (Wednesday May 8th) as well as details of relevant events at the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religion conference at UCD (Fri – Sun May 10 – 12), including Brian Victoria’s free public talk on Sunday 12th.

In connection with the Maynooth exhibition a collection of links to 15 digitised texts from the 3rd to the 20th centuries reflecting the Irish encounter with Buddhism is now online here.

A feast of events

There will be a series of events relating to U Dhammaloka and the encounter between Buddhism and Ireland in Maynooth, Cork and Dublin between April 29 2013 and May 12.

These will include an exhibition showcasing Irish knowledge of Buddhist Asia from the Middle Ages to the present at the NUI Maynooth Library, open from April 29th on; a public seminar “Uncovering hidden histories: U Dhammaloka and early western Buddhists” at UCC on Wednesday May 8th; and a number of public lectures and papers on these subjects at the annual conference of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions at UCD between Friday May 10th and Sunday May 12th. Finally the book “Buddhism and Ireland” is due to be published this July.

Further details will be posted here.


Go to:

This site records the hunt for one man – U Dhammaloka, a remarkable Buddhist monk and anti-colonial agitator who was active across Asia – Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Burma, Siam (Thailand), Straits Settlements (Malaysia), Singapore, Australia, China and Japan – between 1900 and 1913 before disappearing. We know Dhammaloka had been a hobo (migrant worker) in the USA and before that was born in Dublin around 1856. He has a hundred-year head start but we are on his trail…

In searching for Dhammaloka we are also uncovering a whole hidden history of early western Buddhists in Asia. This story goes far beyond the usual story of a handful of gentleman scholars who founded respectable organisations and uncovers a much livelier world of ex-sailors going native, cross-racial alliances, international networks, radicals and eccentrics, steamships and telegraphs, and the remaking of what we now think of as Buddhism.

The Dhammaloka project also shows the complexity of the story of Buddhism and Ireland. Knowledge of Buddhism circulated through the medieval church and as travellers’ tales; Irish soldiers and civil servants played an active role in the British empire which conquered much of Buddhist Asia; the “dalai lama of little Thibet” was well-known to people who read romantic fiction in 1806; the first Buddhist missionary toured the country in 1889. The simple story whereby all Irish people were Catholics or Protestants until the 1960s or 1970s has to be replaced by a much more global understanding: there have been Irish Buddhists, and Buddhists in Ireland, for well over a hundred years.

This website showcases some of the findings from these strands of research. It covers the search for U Dhammaloka, research onĀ  early western Buddhists in Asia and the history of Buddhism and Ireland. There are links to published research of various kinds, details on events, online texts and other resources covering these three extraordinary stories.

Digitised texts now available

A selection of digitised texts available online reflecting the Irish encounter with Buddhism through the centuries are now listed here.