Public events

Dhammaloka seminar, Dublin, Sept 10

By lcox

From Laurence Carroll to U Dhammaloka:
Irish hobo, Buddhist monk, anti-colonial agitator

Tuesday, 10 September, 2 – 5 pm

Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College (east end of TCD campus, close to Westland Row and Lincoln Place entrances; Google map

In 1872 Booterstown-born Laurence Carroll worked his way across the Atlantic to start a life as a sailor and hobo which would take him across the United States and eventually across the world. In 1900 he was ordained a Buddhist monk in Rangoon and became U Dhammaloka, using western atheist arguments to challenge Christian missionaries and the British empire in Asia. As U Dhammaloka he became a very public figure in Japan, China, Singapore, present-day Malaysia, Siam, Burma, Nepal, India and Ceylon and was charged with sedition, pursued by the colonial police, placed under surveillance and faked his own death before disappearing mysteriously in Penang in 1913.

Famous in his own time, Dhammaloka’s story did not suit later generations in Ireland or in Asia and has only recently been rediscovered by an international team of researchers. This seminar presents the results of a year attempting to track Dhammaloka’s hobo past and follow his traces in Asia. Dhammaloka’s history shows us different ways of thinking about what Buddhism means, the history of Irish religion and the meaning of atheism.


Welcome (Dr Jude Lal Fernando)

Introduction:  a beachcomber Buddhist in colonial Asia (Dr Laurence Cox)

The first Dharma bums: hobo and monk as ways of life (Ms Rachel Pisani)

Qs & As


From the edge of the ambit: an interpretation of Dhammaloka’s 1909 tour of Ceylon (Dr Mihirini Sirisena)

What does it all mean? Empire, religion and paths not taken (Dr Laurence Cox)

General discussion

Hosted by the Irish School of Ecumenics

This research forms part of the Irish Research Council-funded project
“Early western Buddhists in Asia”

The exhibition “Encountering Buddhist Asia” is open in NUI Maynooth until August 23rd; further details at

The associated book Buddhism and Ireland is published this September by Equinox.

“Encountering Buddhist Asia: sources of Irish knowledge from the sixth to the twenty-first centuries”

Exhibition, Russell Library (Maynooth), originally April 29th – July 12th: now extended until August 23rd.

Irish awareness of other world cultures and religions is often represented as something surprising and new, probably because of the cultural isolationism of mid-twentieth century Ireland. However, knowledge of Buddhist Asia has been travelling to the western end of the Eurasian continent from the Hellenistic period onwards – in medieval histories and theological commentary, folk myths and travellers’ tales, popular culture and the writings of Irish converts. A Roman-era Buddha statue was buried in a Co. Meath bog; a 14th-century Irish “fixer” travelled to China; readers of an 1806 popular novel knew who the Dalai Lama was; and the Sunday Independent in 1911 told the story of an Irish “hobo” who became a Buddhist monk in Burma.

This exhibition illustrates some of the many ways in which Irish people encountered Buddhism from the medieval period through to the present. The Library’s holdings are themselves a significant data source in this respect, especially as regards Catholic circuits of knowledge. They include early travel narratives drawing on missionary accounts, the writings of western Buddhist converts, Catholic polemics and representations of Buddhism in Irish popular culture, along with posters illustrating medieval Irish knowledge, newspaper reports and the shifting routes of trade, knowledge and power between western Europe and Buddhist Asia. Today, with new connections between Ireland and Asia developing apace, this exhibition shows their long historical roots.

The exhibition is linked to the IRC-funded Advanced Collaborative Research project “Early western Buddhists in Asia: transnational lives, hidden histories, colonial encounters” ( and the forthcoming (July) monograph Buddhism and Ireland ( It is supported by the Maynooth Library.

The exhibition will run until July 12th August 23rd and will be open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
All are welcome and admission is free. To arrange a visit email or phone 01-708 3890.

Launch event:
Monday, April 29th at 2pm in the Russell Library.

Hugh Murphy, Senior Librarian. Welcome and introduction.
Laurence Cox, Dept of Sociology. Early western Buddhists in Asia: transnational lives, hidden histories, colonial encounters.
Rachel Pisani, Dept of Sociology. From Ireland to Burma: a hobo journey?
Mihirini Sirisena, Dept of Sociology. An Irish Buddhist preacher in 1909 Ceylon: U Dhammaloka and Anagarika Dharmapala.

“Uncovering hidden histories: U Dhammaloka and early western Buddhists”

UCC public seminar tracing the transnational histories of the first western Buddhist monks

All welcome; admission free

Venue: O’Rahilly Building, UCC ORB 1.23

Wednesday May 8th, 9.45 am – 1 pm

Hosted by the Study of Religions dept., School of Asian Studies, University College, Cork

Part of the Irish Research Council project “Early western Buddhists in Asia: transnational lives, hidden histories, colonial encounters”

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of remarkable westerners in colonial Asia crossed the barriers of race and religion to become Buddhists, playing important roles in the transformation of Buddhism from a traditional religion of various parts of Asia to a globally-recognised “philosophy and spirituality for the modern age”. A surprising number of these individuals were Irish, stepping outside the seemingly all-encompassing conflict between Catholic and Protestant. The Dublin-born hobo, sailor and Buddhist monk U Dhammaloka has been the subject of ongoing research since 2009. This anti-colonial preacher was well-known in Burma, Singapore, present-day Malaysia and Thailand but was also active in Japan, Hong Kong, India, Australia and Sri Lanka. With multiple aliases, several brushes with the law, one faked death and 28 years of his life missing, present-day researchers are trying to find out what the colonial police could not.

Other fascinating figures include the Cork-connected author, spiritualist and Theosophist John Bowles Daly, who ran a pioneering Buddhist school in Sri Lanka; the Irish monk U Visuddha who was involved in the mass conversion of ex-“Untouchable” (dalit) goldminers to Buddhism in south India; and the Munster-born naval officer, Japanologist and Buddhist initiate Captain Charles Pfoundes who set up the first Buddhist mission in London.

This seminar will feature reports from recent trips to Buddhist archives in Sri Lanka, radical archives in San Francisco and political police files in London and present the latest knowledge on these Irish Buddhist pioneers. Dr Mihirini Sirisena will have just returned from 3 months in Sri Lanka and India looking for traces of U Dhammaloka, John Bowles Daly and U Wisuddha. Ms Rachel Pisani will have just returned from 2 months in New York, Chicago and San Francisco on the trail of the man who became Dhammaloka. Dr Laurence Cox will have just returned from 2 weeks in London exploring the atheist and temperance press and the Burmese confidential police files. Prof Brian Bocking has been researching the history of Dhammaloka’s contacts with Australia. Prof Alicia Turner has researched a dramatic confrontation at the Shwedagon pagoda which became a major public issue in Burma.


9.45  Welcome and introduction (Brian Bocking, Laurence Cox)
10.00 Rachel Pisani – Hidden histories, hobo lives and ethnic boundaries in the US
10.30 Laurence Cox – A seditious press: the National Reformer, the colonial media and the Indian Press Act
11.00 Mihirini Sirisena – Dharmapala and Dhammaloka: early contacts, Madras-Arakan-Colombo and the 1909 tour of Ceylon
11.30 Coffee break
12.00 Alicia Turner – Shoes in context: Dhammaloka in Burma, 1901
12.30 Brian Bocking – Why did Dhammaloka come from the West? Australia 1912 and a faked death
12.45 General discussion
1pm end

Thanks are due to the Irish Research Council for its support for the “Early western Buddhists in Asia: transnational lives, hidden histories, colonial encounters” project.

Admission free; all welcome

Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religion conference (Fri – Sun 10 – 12 May, UCD)

This conference will include a series of relevant events including a keynote lecture by Alicia Turner, co-discoverer of U Dhammaloka; a free public talk by Brian Victoria, author of Zen at War; a paper by Mihirini Sirisena and Laurence Cox on the Irish Buddhist educationalist John Bowles Daly in Ceylon; a paper by Brian Bocking and Laurence Cox on the Irish-born Charles Pfoundes and the first Buddhist mission to London (in 1890, eighteen years before Ananda Metteyya); and a panel on the Irish Theosophists James and Margaret Cousins in India.

NB that attendance is free for those coming for the Sunday only, which includes Brian Victoria’s public talk “Reflections in a Catholic mirror: the struggle to create a Buddhist chaplaincy in the US military” as well as a range of conference papers.

Full details and programme here.

Past events

The hunt for Dhammaloka: on the trail of early Irish-Buddhist links” seminar in NUI Maynooth, 5 December 2012. With Mihirini Sirisena, Rachel Pisani and Laurence Cox.

Southeast Asia as a crossroads for Buddhist exchange: pioneer European Buddhists and Asian Buddhist networks 1860 – 1960″ conference in UCC, 13 – 15 September 2012. A selection of papers from this conference are being published as a second special issue of Contemporary Buddhism.

Dhammaloka Day” conference in UCC, 19 February 2011. Celebrating the centenary of Dhammaloka’s 2011 trial for sedition and launching the first Dhammaloka special issue of the journal Contemporary Buddhism. With Brian Bocking, Laurence Cox, Elizabeth Harris, Alicia Turner and Thomas Tweed.


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