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Monday 5 December 2016

Skeleton of Irish Giant Charles Byrne, 'should be buried at sea'

Richard Alleyne

Published 22/12/2011 | 05:00

Professor Marta
Korbonits with the
skeleton of the 'Irish
Giant', Charles
Byrne, and Brendan
Holland, who has
the same gene
Professor Marta Korbonits with the skeleton of the 'Irish Giant', Charles Byrne, and Brendan Holland, who has the same gene

HE was known as the Irish Giant, a curiosity of Georgian London who was so tall it was said he could light his pipe from a gas street lamp.

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But despite being a considered a freak in life, Charles Byrne, who may have been over 8ft tall, was adamant he would not be one in death.

He left strict instructions that he should be buried at sea to avoid his body becoming a scientific exhibit.

His instructions were ignored and his skeleton has remained on display in a museum for almost two centuries.

Now, a campaign is growing to finally fulfil his dying wishes. Thomas Muinzer, a legal researcher, wrote in the 'British Medical Journal': "What has been done cannot be undone but it can be morally rectified. Surely it is time to respect the memory and reputation of Mr Byrne."

Mr Byrne, who was born in Derry in 1761, suffered from acromegaly, or an excess of growth hormone. He came to London where he made a fortune as a curiosity but soon his fame became too hard to handle and he took to drink.

He died penniless aged 22, but not before he left instructions that his body should be buried at sea in a lead-lined coffin.

Against his wishes, Mr Byrne's corpse was purchased by John Hunter, a scientist, for £500, the equivalent of £50,000 (€60,000) today, and his skeleton was displayed in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, where it has remained to this day.

Mr Muinzer, from the school of law at Queen's University Belfast, added there was nothing of any more use that could be deduced scientifically from Mr Byrne's bones.

But Sam Alberti, director of the Hunterian Museum, said that researchers were "excited about the potential for future research" and he could not judge when the limits of scientific research had been reached.

Irish Independent

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