Killeeshil man hot on trail of Irish giants

Brendan Holland with the skeleton of his ancestor Charles Byrne
Brendan Holland with the skeleton of his ancestor Charles Byrne

Am international team of research scientists are accompanying a Dungannon business man in his quest to uncover evidence of Irish giants.

Brendan Holland, who is 6 feet 9 inches, and a former sufferer of pituitary adenoma which leads to gigantism, has taken part in genetic research which shows that he is genetically related to the Irish Giant, Charles Byrne, who found fame in the 1780s exhibiting himself as a curiosity or ‘freak’.

Now the Killeeshil man’s quest to uncover more about his possible ancestors has taken him to one of the most remote and westerly points of Ireland.

In February 1954, a giant skeleton was found by workmen on Cruit Island, West Donegal as they were digging gravel from the ground for road repairs.

The mystery surrounding the identity of this very tall young man has never been adequately explained. What is known is that he more than likely suffered from Pituitary Gigantism - a condition that results in sufferers dying in their late teens or early twenties.

After the discovery of the body in 1954, the local gardaí secured the scene and the local coroner, Dr. McGinley, was called to carry out a post mortem. A short time later the giant’s earthly remains were reinterred on the island in Cill Bhride cemetery, a short distance form where he was found.

Now Mr Holland and the team of researchers are on the search for the copy of the coroner’s report. That will in turn allow them apply for permission to exhume the remains of the Cruit Island skeleton.

Mr Holland described how he had a certain bond and sympathy with the unidentified Cruit Island giant.

“It’s a fascinating story and there are so many questions surrounding this skeleton and his identity that remain unanswered. We are hoping that the coroner’s report from the time might be able to shed some more light on the mystery,” he said.

Details of the giant’s discovery were first reported in an article in ‘The Rosses Annual’ some years ago. Brendan has also met with Breige Sweeney who was just ten years old when along with some friends, arrived on the scene of the discovery of the skeleton just minutes after it was unearthed.

Her cousin, Dan Paddy O’Donnell, was a young man then and he related how he turned the sod and immediately discovered human bones just eight inches under the surface. There, lying on its back, were the skeletal remains of a huge man with long hair and a full set of healthy teeth.

Now approaching seventy years old, Breige spends her time living between Glasgow and Donegal. She still distinctly remembers the skeleton’s beautiful healthy teeth.

The teeth are also mentioned in the coroner’s report. Dr. McGinley commented that the condition of the molar teeth suggested the man had died in late adolescence.

“If, as we suspect, he suffered from Pituitary Gigantism, the comment becomes relevant because that would be in keeping with our medical knowledge of today that many sufferers of this condition died in their late teens or early twenties,” Brendan Holland added.

Brendan was diagnosed with the rare condition in a London hospital in 1972 and successfully treated thereafter. He has lived his subsequent 41 years in good general health.

Four years ago, a research team in London discovered that the illness lies in people’s genes and in some cases, sufferers unwittingly pass it on to their children.

It’s also thought the condition has its geographical origins along the border area of Tyrone and Derry.

“The question is, did our Cruit Island giant make his way there from East Tyrone?” Brendan said.

“Was he born there? Did he have the same rogue gene that I was born with?”

“We might be too late to help the Cruit Island Giant, but maybe we can give him an identity of sorts.”