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Hilary Mantel demands that the skeleton of the & # 39; Irish Giant & # 39; is brought back to his homeland


Wolf Hall author Dame Hilary Mantel has called for the return of the 18th-century Irish giant's skeleton, currently held by the Royal College of Surgeons, after requesting a funeral at sea.

Mantel wrote The Giant, O'brien, a fictional account of Charles Byrne, who suffered from acromegalic gigantism and became a celebrity in London due to his size.

Byrne, who was born in Co Londonderry in 1761, went to great lengths during his lifetime to ensure that his skeleton was no longer on display after his death – a fate usually reserved for executed criminals at the time.

After he died in his quarters in 1783, aged just 22, Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter acquired his remains against the giant's express instructions to bury his body at sea.

His skeleton appeared in Jäger's private collection four years later and was exhibited in the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London for the next 200 years.

Dame Hilary Mantel has called for the repatriation of the 18th century Irish giant's skeleton, currently held by the Royal College of Surgeons, after requesting a funeral at sea

Charles Byrne, who was born in Co Londonderry in 1761 and lived to be 8 feet 4 inches, went to great lengths during his lifetime to ensure that his skeleton was not on display after his death - a fate usually reserved for executed criminals at the time

Charles Byrne, who was born in Co Londonderry in 1761 and lived to be 8 feet 4 inches, went to great lengths during his lifetime to ensure that his skeleton was not on display after his death – a fate usually reserved for executed criminals at the time

The Queen appears impressed as she looks at the Irish giant's skeleton in the Hunterian Museum during her visit to the Royal College of Surgeons

The Queen appears impressed as she looks at the Irish giant's skeleton in the Hunterian Museum during her visit to the Royal College of Surgeons

Two years ago, the museum said it would reconsider sending Byrne's remains back to his home for a burial at sea during renovations, but the museum's reopening has been postponed until at least 2022.

Dame Hilary, the Booker winner of the critically acclaimed Wolf Hall novels in Henry VIII & # 39; s England, has now added her vote to respect Byrne's request and to properly bury his remains.

In a letter to The Guardian, she said, “It's time for Charles to go home,” adding, “I know that in real life he was a suffering soul, nothing like the fabulous fairy tale giant I created and his satisfaction was less and his ending very bleak.

“I think science has learned everything from bones, and the honorable thing now is to lay it to rest. It would be in line with the zeitgeist and I see no reason for delay. He waited long enough. & # 39;

Dame Hilary said, “I assumed the funeral at sea was just an attempt to evade Hunter and that he would be buried in Ireland if the bones were recovered from the RCS.

He entertained paying audiences in rooms in Spring Garden Gate, then in Piccadilly, and finally in Charing Cross. Reports at the time noted how he could light his pipe with street lamps without standing on tiptoe. In London he was the toast of the city, and his gentle, personable manner aroused great public affection, which was spread in the daily newspapers

He entertained paying audiences in rooms in Spring Garden Gate, then in Piccadilly, and finally in Charing Cross. Reports at the time noted how he could light his pipe with street lamps without standing on tiptoe. In London he was the toast of the city, and his gentle, personable manner aroused great public affection, which was spread in the daily newspapers

After he died in his quarters in 1783 at the age of only 22, Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter acquired his remains against the giant's express instructions to bury his body at sea. His skeleton appeared in Jäger's private collection four years later and was exhibited in the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London for the next 200 years

After he died in his quarters in 1783 at the age of just 22, Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter acquired his remains against the giant's express instructions to bury his body at sea. His skeleton appeared in Jäger's private collection four years later and was exhibited in the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London for the next 200 years

The life and death of Charles Byrne, the eight-foot-four-inch Irish giant whose last wish to be buried at sea was foiled

Byrne's family lived in a remote part of Co Londonderry called Littlebridge, not far from Lough Neagh. It is said that Byrne was conceived on a haystack and that this was the cause of his great size.

By his late teens, Byrne had decided to head to Britain for fame and fortune. It landed in Scotland first and was an instant hit.

His fame spread as he made his way through northern England and arrived in London in early 1782 at the age of 21. Here he entertained paying audiences in rooms in the Spring Garden Gate, then in Piccadilly and finally in Charing Cross.

During this time, it was stolen while drinking at his local pub, the Black Horse. Byrne's worldly earnings came in the form of banknotes and were stolen. The loss of his income affected his poor health, and two months later, Byrne died in June 1783 at the age of 22.

Byrne was living in London at the same time as the surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. Hunter had a reputation for collecting unusual specimens for his private museum, and Hunter had offered to pay Byrne for his body.

When Byrne's health worsened, and he knew Hunter wanted his body for dissection (a fate reserved at the time for executed criminals) and probable portrayal, Byrne devised a plan. He made explicit arrangements with friends that after his death his body would be sealed in a lead coffin and taken to the seaside town of Margate and then to a ship for burial at sea.

Byrne's wishes were thwarted and his worst fears realized when Hunter arranged for the body to be abducted en route to Margate.

Hunter then reduced Byrne's body to its skeleton and exhibited Byrne's skeleton in his Hunterian Museum four years later. His skeleton was bought by the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London in 1799 and then exhibited for nearly two centuries.

"I hope there would be a welcome party for him and I hope I can come and join."

A spokesman for the Hunterian Museum told MailOnline that the museum is currently closed and is undergoing redevelopment. "An update of the plans for all exhibits in the new museum will be released in due course."

Byrne was born in Littlebridge between Cookstown and the west bank of Lough Neagh. He left home to make his fortune and traveled around Scotland and the north of England as a "curiosity" before settling in London in 1782 at the age of 21.

He entertained paying audiences in rooms in Spring Garden Gate, then in Piccadilly, and finally in Charing Cross. Reports at the time noted how he could light his pipe with street lamps without standing on tiptoe.

In London he was the toast of the city and his gentle, personable manner aroused great public affection, which was spread in the daily newspapers.

Byrne was living in London at the same time as Hunter, who had a reputation for collecting unusual specimens for his private museum.

After Hunter offered to pay Byrne for his body, the Irish giant, whose health was deteriorating and who knew Hunter wanted his body for dissection, closed down plans with friends to have his body sealed in a lead coffin in Margate bring and then ship to a burial at sea.

But the Scottish surgeon had the body abducted en route to Margate before reducing Byrne's body to a skeleton.

In 2011, Len Doyal, professor emeritus of medical ethics at the University of London's Queen Mary, and lawyer Thomas Muinzer in the British Medical Journal called for Byrne's skeleton to end at the museum and for it to be buried at sea "as Byrne intended for himself".

Dr. Cliona McGovern, director of forensic and legal medicine at University College Dublin, told The Guardian: “This is still something that Byrne has objected to.

“We know that Byrne did not consent to his body on display, and most unusually for a 1783 case, we know what his express request was: burial at sea.

"Hunter interfered in a funeral that was (and is) a legal right, nor has he given any reference to a Byrne family who also had legal rights over Byrne's estate."

Francie Molloy, the MP for Mid-Ulster, where Byrne was born, has urged the museum to respect Byrne's wishes.

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