Belfast Telegraph

Why it's time to give Derry Giant a decent burial

By Lindy McDowell

A few months back I watched a truly outstanding Irish language film on the BBC (made by Ronin films) about Charles Byrne - the man they called The Irish Giant.

Byrne was born in Co Derry in 1761 not that far from where I come from myself. I'd never heard of him.

He suffered from a condition - acromegaly - which caused him to grow to over 8ft. Understandably he soon became a bit of a local legend - the contemporary equivalent of a celeb.

Persuaded he could make a good living displaying himself in London, he acquired rooms in the big smoke where he soon became one of its most famous residents.

But his health was deteriorating and Byrne, now only 22, found the constant attention hard to deal with. He began to drink heavily. Aware that he would not live long he became haunted by the fear that doctors - one in particular, John Hunter - would seize his corpse and dissect it.

He begged his friends to promise him that they would bury him at sea. But Hunter tricked them and captured the body which he gruesomely had boiled down to the skeleton.

Examination of Byrne's skeleton helped scientists unravel the secrets of the condition which afflicted the big man (and poignantly, some of his descendants today.)

But down the years Byrne's last wishes were never fulfilled. Shamefully this poor young man's skeleton still hangs on public display in the Hunterian Museum in London.

Thomas Muinzer, a legal researcher from Queen's in Belfast, is now campaigning for Byrne to be given a decent burial. "What has been done cannot be undone," he says. "But it can be morally rectified."

It's a campaign we should all throw our weight behind. Charles Byrne was one of our own and we should speak up for him. After all these years it's time the gentle Irish Giant was finally laid to his rest.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph