Stirling academic sparks groundbreaking development in Irish giant case

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An article by a University of Stirling academic has led to a groundbreaking development in a campaign to have the skeleton of an 18th century Irish giant released from a London museum.

Law lecturer Dr Thomas Muinzer wrote an article in The Conversation arguing for the release of Charles Byrne’s skeleton from the Hunterian Museum during its closure for refurbishment.

At 7ft 5ins, Byrne became a celebrated society curiosity in Georgian London but died penniless at the age of 22. His remains were stolen by body snatchers in 1783 on the instructions of eminent Scots surgeon John Hunter, after whom the museum takes its name.

Dr Muinzer's original research into the case - published by the BMJ in 2011 - sparked a campaign calling for Byrne’s remains to be released and given a sea burial according to his original wishes.

Following media interest in Dr Muinzer’s latest article, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), which houses the museum, released a statement saying: “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.”

Dr Muinzer described the statement as a “significant development” as the museum has so far refused to be drawn on the subject.

"This is a huge move on their part because the Hunterian's approach so far has been to bury its head in the sand,” he said.

“Clearly the recent coverage of this dispiriting display and the growing strength of the campaign for its removal have put pressure on the museum.

“I believe it would now be nigh on impossible for the Hunterian to continue displaying Byrne's skeleton. It's just not necessary – they could use a replica instead and let the poor man rest in peace. Two hundred and fifty years on, that would be the right thing to do."

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