x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lay Byrne to rest

After two centuries' dedication to medical research, it is time for the "Irish giant" to be put to bed.

Irish folklore abound with stories of leprechauns, the small mischievous creatures that store their coins in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But Ireland is also the land of giants, some of whom are anything but fairy tale material.

One such giant, Charles Byrne, had one last request before he died: to be buried at sea. At 2.34 metres, the man dubbed the "Irish giant" in Georgian London of the 1780s feared his notoriety would lead to his body being dissected by physicians in the name of scientific research.

His dying wish was ignored, and his greatest fear realised. But a campaign by two academics has gained momentum in recent months to have Byrne's skeleton - on display at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London - finally buried, more than 200 years after his death.

While the ethics of John Hunter, the doctor who bought his body for research, may be questioned, a small measure of understanding, even thanks, might be in order. Hunter's actions enabled studies to continue until this day, with the discovery that it was a gene mutation that led to his great height. This has also shed light on the growth problems associated with his condition.

But with Byrne's DNA collected, it's time for him to rest, the campaigners claim. After two centuries, not many could argue with that.