Museum may give 18th-century ‘Irish giant’ respectful burial

Charles Byrne from Derry had gigantism which caused him to grow to more than 7ft 7ins

Charles Byrne's remains  in the Hunterian Museum Royal College of Surgeons (2) courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the Hunterian Collection

Charles Byrne's remains in the Hunterian Museum Royal College of Surgeons (2) courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the Hunterian Collection

 

An “Irish giant” on display at the anatomical museum in London may be released to allow the remains to be given a respectful burial.

The skeleton is that of Charles Byrne, an 18th-century man who had a genetic form of gigantism that caused him to grow to more than 2.31 metres (7ft 7in) tall.

The skeleton of Byrne, who was born in Derry in 1761, has been on display in London’s Hunterian Museum at the headquarters for the Royal College of Surgeons.

Byrne set off for Britain in his late teens and became a freak show “curiosity” in London society. He died of tuberculosis aged 22 and requested that his friends bury him at sea, fearing that his body would be stolen for medical research.

However a surgeon, John Hunter, acquired Byrne’s body and put his skeleton on display where it remains to this day.

In recent years the museum has come under increasing pressure to honour the Irishman’s final wishes.

Now the museum, which has just closed for three years for refurbishment, says it is considering doing so.

In a statement to the Guardian, a Royal College of Surgeons spokesman said: “The Hunterian Museum will be closed until 2021 and Charles Byrne’s skeleton is not currently on display. The Board of Trustees of the Hunterian Collection will be discussing the matter during the period of closure of the museum.”

Byrne’s skeleton has been the subject of research led by the London School of Medicine and dentistry which discovered Byrne’s DNA contained a “gigantism gene” which has been matched to other patients suffering from over-growth.

If the skeleton were released campaigners for his return have suggested it should be returned to Northern Ireland to be buried near Byrne’s home village of Drummullan.