A man in Galway, Ireland apparently died of spontaneous combustion last year in December. At least, according to a court ruling this week. Michael Faherty's death had been a mystery because coroners and police couldn't explain how the fire that killed him only seemed to have burned the man and his immediate surroundings.

Spontaneous combustion occurs when a person suddenly catches on fire without any external source of fire causing the blaze. There have been only a few hundred cases recorded throughout the world. The Irish Times reports:

West Galway corner Dr Ciarán McLoughlin said he had never encountered such a case in the 25 years that he had been investigating deaths in the region.

Forensic experts found that a fire in the fireplace of the sittingroom where the badly burnt body was found was not the cause of the blaze that killed Mr Faherty.

The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there was nothing to suggest foul play.

Garda Gerard O'Callaghan said he had gone to the house after the fire had been put out and found Mr Faherty lying on his back in a small sittingroom, with his head closest to an open fireplace.

He said the fire had been confined to the sittingroom and the rest of the house sustained only smoke damage. The only damage was to the body, which had been totally burnt, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath.

After deliberating for many months, the court finally ruled that the death was due to spontaneous combustion, based on evidence of the phenomenon from forensic pathologists. Apparently, though these kinds of deaths are quite uncommon, they almost always happen near a fireplace or chimney.

(Thanks for the tip, Shane!)