Buddhism and Ireland


Lying at opposite ends of the Eurasian continent, knowledge of Buddhism nevertheless travelled to Ireland in many ways over the last fourteen centuries or so.  Ireland’s involvement in imperial and anti-colonial circuits structured its late nineteenth and early twentieth-century encounter with Buddhism and the first Irish converts. More recently a combination of immigration and transformations in Irish society have led to growing numbers of Buddhists in Ireland and a broader engagement.

The book Buddhism and Ireland: from the Celts to the counter-culture and beyond (Sheffield: Equinox, 2013) documents the Irish history, which is also explored in an archive of online and other research on Ireland and Buddhism contained at the Dhammaloka Project website. There are reviews of the book by Tadhg Foley in the Dublin Review of Books, by John L Murphy in the Journal of Global Buddhism (the link is to an extended version of the review), by Roberto Bertoni at Carte scoperte , by Natasha Mikles in Buddhist Studies Review, by Eilís Ward in Interface, by Catherine Maignant in Etudes irlandaises, by Raymond Lam in Buddhist Door Global and by Alison Melnick in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, as well as other reviews behind paywalls (Justin McDaniel in Religious Studies Review, Oliver Scharbrodt in Journal of Contemporary Religion, Lily Rowen in the Irish Journal of Sociology, Carole Cusack in Australasian Journal of Irish Studies).

For those interested in this kind of research on other non-traditionally Buddhist countries, the Journal of Global Buddhism is a fundamental (and open-access) resource. My recent summary of Buddhist traditions in Europe for the Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism may also be useful.

My TCD Long Room Hub lecture “A dissident Orientalism? Irish Buddhism in European perspective” is now available as a podcast in itunes format here. Newstalk’s “Talking Books” programme included an interview about the book Buddhism and Ireland. It is available as a podcast here (starts about 6 minutes in).

Along with researching U Dhammaloka, I’ve been working on the lives of three other early Irish Buddhists. Brian Bocking, Yoshinaga Shin’ichi and myself have just published an article showing that Charles Pfoundes (1840 – 1907) ran the first Buddhist mission to the west (London, 1889 – 92), a decade before what were previously thought to be the first missions. I’ve just published an article discussing the remarkable life of Vivian Butler Burke (1881? – 1937) and in particular the first Buddhist centre in Dublin, which she ran from at least 1929 – 1935. Margery Reynolds and I hope to develop this project further at a future point. Lastly, with Mihirini Sirisena I’ve been researching John Bowles Daly (?1844 – ?1916) and his work with the Buddhist Theosophical Society’s schools in Ceylon.