Hugh Murphy, known by many names, including Barnum’s Famous Irish Giant, the Irish Giant, the Colossal Irish Giant, James Murphy, Patrick Murphy and Captain Murphy. He stood 7 ft 3.4 inches tall.
Patrick Murphy was born on the 15 June 1834 on a farm in the Mourne Mountains beside the shore of Carlingford Lough at Killowen and the townland of Kilfeaghan with his parents. His parents parents were James Murphy and mother Peggy (née Cunningham). As a child he was of normal height, requiring no ‘outsized pants, night-shirts or boots’
Several sources are claiming a height of between 8 feet 1 inch (246.4 cm) and 8 feet 10 inches (269.2 cm). However, he has been measured by Dr. Virchow in around 1860 and was found to be 7 feet 3.4 inches (222 cm) tall. However, when Patrick was 20 he began to grow rapidly, until he reached remarkable height of 8ft 1in! At that time he was said to be the tallest man in the world. It’s reckoned his incredible height was due to ‘the excessive functioning of his pituitary gland’ an important gland situated at the base of the brain affecting growth. Yet he rarely took advantage of his superior height or strength.
Once, however, when two players at a football match angered him, he lifted the pair off the ground then banged their heads together. And, when another man annoyed him, he promptly threw him over a fence and into a field.
During his short life in Killowen he moved from his home where he was born to the townland of Tamnaveigh, approximately one and a half miles away. His new house is now a listed building and can still be seen today.
His increasing size astonished people in Warrenpoint, when he returned after a year or so to stay with his widowed mother.
By his early 20s he had grown to over 8 ft (2.44 m) in height. Sources vary in estimating his height, with accounts ranging from 8ft 10in (2.69 m) to 8ft 1in (2.46 m), although the latter figure from the parish register is believed most likely.
This perhaps made him the tallest man in the world at that time and one of the tallest ever.
One of the interesting features of his case is that he was said to have maintained body proportion and strength as he grew.
His personality was universally considered pleasant and even-tempered. He amused children in Rostrevor by lighting his pipe off the village gas lamps.
This tale was a local favourite and was certainly shared with CS Lewis while he stayed and was inspired to write and craft the world of Narnia,
The distintinctive lamp posts are an important feature in the world of Narnia.
It seems that he showed some initial distaste for exhibiting his person to the curious for money (especially when fellow Irish people wanted to see him), but at some point in the mid 1850s he was paid to make appearances in a Liverpool public house. Later he went on a short European tour with an exhibition of curiosities, doing sufficiently well to purchase a small farm in Kilbroney, near Rostrevor, County Down. Evicted some years later, he resumed work in Europe as an attraction in a travelling circus and reportedly moved in aristocratic circles in France.
In May 1857 the Emperor and Empress of Austria invited the tall Irishman to visit their kingdom. While he was on tour throughout Europe, he died of smallpox in Marseille at the age of twenty-eight. Friends brought his embalmed body back to Ireland, and he was interred in Kilbroney cemetery on 18 June 1862.
There have been a few other Irish Giants, or Giant Murphy’s in the past. This Patrick Murphy is the original Irish Giant and some giants from Ireland after him might have borrowed his name in order to be more interesting when exhibiting themselves.