A Grave Situation: An Examination of the Legal Issues Raised by the Life and Death of Charles Byrne, the 'Irish Giant'
International Journal of Cultural Property (2013) 20: 23-48
26 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2016
Date Written: 2013
Charles Byrne was an eighteenth-century celebrity “Irish giant” who requested burial upon nearing death, but whose corpse was procured against his wishes by the surgeon John Hunter. Hunter reduced Byrne’s corpse to its skeleton and exhibited it as the centerpiece of his vast anatomical collection. It has since remained on display in the Hunterian Museum, London. In 2011 it was announced that research conducted on the skeleton’s DNA has revealed that several Northern Irish families share a common ancestry with Byrne. This article considers the legal issues raised by Byrne’s story. The results of fieldwork undertaken by the author in Byrne’s native townland are also discussed, where folk tradition suggests that Byrne wished to be buried foremost at a local site remembered today as “the Giant’s Grave.”
Keywords: Cultural Property Law, Legal History, Burial Law
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