Cookstown’s own giant

Charles Byrne in a 1784 etching by John Kay, alongside both men of normal height and dwarves.
Charles Byrne in a 1784 etching by John Kay, alongside both men of normal height and dwarves.
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GIANTS have a prominent place in Irish mythology and Mid Ulster has not escaped this fascination with the story of Charlie Byrne.

In the eighteenth century the Cookstown area had its very own ‘giant’. Recalled in stories handed down through the generations, local man Charlie Byrne was described as being the same height as a man on horseback.

Born in 1761, Charlie grew to be seven foot seven inches tall. Such was local amazement that his height was recorded in a very unique way in the oak wood in the townland of Derrygonigan a few miles from Cookstown. Charlie lay down and the outline of his body was marked in the ground and later dug out. Sadly the oak wood and the spot where Charlie was remembered were both removed in the late 1960s or early 70s.

Aged nineteen, Charlie went to London to seek his fortune only to die a few years later, but he became known as ‘The Irish Giant’. His wish for a burial at sea did not happen and his skeleton ended up in the Hunterian Museum London where it still is today.

To learn more about the story of Charlie Byrne come to a meeting of Rock and District Historical Society in the old Rock School on Thursday 13 October at 8.30pm. Local historian, Brendan Holland who took part in a BBC documentary on Charlie Byrne will give an illustrated talk on the very tall man whose memory lingers on in local folklore.