The Irish Giant -Patrick Cotter

I picked up this book via Southcart Books store on Ebay. So in part this post is a review, but also it’s a brief summary of the titular character’s remarkable life. Do check out Southcart Books, they have some great books.

The Irish Giant by G Frankcom. At first I thought it would be about the famous Irish Giant Charles Byrne, however to my delight I discovered it was actually about a gentleman called Patrick Cotter O’Brien (O’Brien was his show name).  This particular Irish Giant was contemporary with Byrne for some of his life but died long after him.

Patrick Cotter O’Brien (19 January 1760 – 8 September 1806) was the first of only thirteen people in medical history to stand at a verified height of eight feet (2.44 m) or more. O’Brien was born in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland. His real name was Patrick Cotter and he adopted O’Brien as his stage name in the sideshow circus. He was also known as the Bristol Giant and the Irish Giant.’Brien

Yes you read that correctly – he stood at over 8ft tall. The first of only a handful of people to top 8ft tall.

He was afflicted by Giantism and acromegaly; when he died at the age of 46 no hearse could be found to accommodate his 9 ft coffin. He was carried to his grave by relays of 14 men, and he asked to be buried 12 feet under solid rock to discourage grave robbers – or ‘resurrection men’ exhuming him and selling his remains to a doctor.  Anatomists would often pay well for the recently dead – in order to dissect for their medical students. This was, technically, illegal, although hanged prisoners could be given to them. Such a fate terrified many people and with a body of such immense proportions it was a real risk for poor Mr Cotter. Later in his life he became increasingly disabled – as his conditions meant his joints etc. kept growing and he suffered from back pain, damaged joints and heart problems, among other problems.

Cotter made a decent living – financially at least . When he died his mother received over £2000 – a substantial sum in the early 19th Century (equivalent to as much as 150k today). Whether he was happy – living his life on show and plagued by the many problems related to his medical conditions, is another matter entirely. He made friends, by many accounts he was an intelligent and congenial man but there is only one, unsubstantiated, report of marriage.  He managed to find some privacy in a house he purchased but even so a man of his stature and renown would hardly be able to blend in.  However occasionally his extreme height was an advantage – he worked as a bricklayer and builder able to paint ceilings or tile some roofs without a ladder, and once his specially adapted coach was stopped by a highway. Who then fled in terror when an 8 foot tall man stepped out.

In the 1970s Cotter’s skeleting was rediscovered during the excavation of foundations for a building and interest in him renewed. His skeleton was examined – to find out the causes of his giantism. That’s basically what the book is about. Cotter’s life, death and rediscovery.

I really enjoyed the subject – the author had obviously done a great deal of research about Cotter, the particular medical issues he suffered and the exhumation of his remains. Many of the sources are contradictory (especially as there were, remarkably, a couple of other ‘Irish Giants’ about at the same time.  The author discusses the sources and the contradictions and tries to find the most consistent and accurate account.

I’d recommend this for those who enjoy biographies of interesting and unusual people, medical anomalies, local history and the attitudes of the time to those individuals who had such conditions.

If you want to learn more about the subject these websites and blogs might be of interest. Especially The Tallest Man – this link will take you to a page about ROBERT PERSHING WADLOW who was 8ft 11! The tallest verified man in medical history.


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