F. J. Bigger (1863-1926)


Life
[Francis Joseph Bigger], b. Belfast, seventh son of a seventh son of Church of Ireland woollen family from Biggerstown, nr. Mallusk, Co. Antrim; ed Belfast Academical Institute; studied law in Dublin; later MA, QUB; solicitor, 1888; became a Freemason; supported Irish language revival and attended P J O’Shea’s Irish classes; member of Coisde Gnotha [Executive Council] of Gaelic League; served as President of Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club; ed. Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1894-1914; wrote numerous pamphlets and journal contributions, some 387 articles being listed in Hayes’s Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation; his house Ardrigh [occas. Airdrie] at 737b, Antrim Rd., was a meeting-place for Northern nationalists (demolished in 1986); restored public houses under Trust agreement; paid for Gaelic feis at Cushendall, organised by Roger Casement, 1904, erected granite slab over grave of St Patrick at Downpatrick Cathedral;
 
restored castles (such as Jordan’s Castle, Ardglass, purchased in 1911), churches, crosses and monuments at his own expense; his library forms part of Belfast Central Public Library collection; elected MRIA; called a ‘Protestant with Franciscan leanings’ by Shane Leslie [in Doomsland, where he models for MacNeill]; established with others the Ulster Public House Reform Association, with a model premises near Mallusk; removed the bones of Henry Joy McCracken to his home, and later re-interred them in the McCracken family plot here Carlisle Circus; wrote William Orr (1906) for Maunsel; issued antiquarian writings on Irish Penal Crosses 1713-1781 (1909); Cranfield Church (1911), The Magees (1916), calendar of family papers; also studies of Amyas Griffiths, Surveyor Gen. of Belfast, 1780-1785 as The Belfast Micawber (1916) and Alexander Mitchell [q.d.];
 
issued Aeneas O’Haughan [q.d.], a novel, and Four Shots from Dawn (1919), ‘fireside stories, humorous and pathetic’; also Mrs. Siddons and the Stage of Belfast (1925) and Crossing the Bar (1926), being a account of beliefs about death and the afterlife with legends and incidents, mostly Irish; published notes on the Franciscan Friary in Ballycastle as well as the churches of St. Tassach or Raholp and St. Nicholas of Artole in Downpatrick (1917); d. 9 Dec.; his library of 3,000 volumes presented to Belfast Central Library by his brother, Lt. Col. F C Bigger in 1927 to form the Bigger Collection of the Irish Library, resulting in a printed catalogue (1930), to be joined by the J. S. Crone Collection; he is the dedicatee of Cathal O’Byrne’s As I Roved Out and George A. Birmingham’s The Northern Iron (1907); a sketch of Bigger can be found in [pseud.] Seán Ghall’s Preface to William Bulfin’s Rambles in Ireland (5th edn. 1917); his papers are held in the Linenhall Library, Belfast. DIB DIW DUB OCIL

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Works
The Ancient Franciscan Friary of Bun-na-margie
[ ... &c.] (Belfast: Marcus Ward & Co. 1898) [Ulster Journal of Archaeology]; The Northern Leaders of ’98 [No.1 William Orr] (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. 1906) [no more published], xxxviii+201pp.; Crossing the Bar (Belfast: W. E. Mayne 1926), ill. woodcuts by John F. Hunter.

Miscellaneous, ed. The Reliques of Barney Maglone (1894); Preface to Thomas Matthews, The O’Neills of Ulster, 3 vols. (Dublin: Sealy & Bryers & Walker 1907); Intro. to James Mathews, Ulster Land War of 1770: Hearts of Steel (1910); ed., with preface, William Lutton, Montiaghisms: Ulster Dialect Words and Phrases (Armagh Guardian Office 1923), 46pp.; Seven Sketches (Dublin 1927), articles. Qry, Some Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Ulster (PRIA vol. 33 sect C. No.1; [?]1937, &c.)

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Criticism
In Remembrance [by] F. C. Bigger, articles and sketched, ed. J. S. Crone and F. C. B. (1927); Roger Dickson [sic], ‘Irish and Loval Collections in Belfast Central Library’, in Outline Magazine, No. 6 (Belfast 1994); Roger Dixon [sic] and Terry Dixon, ‘F. J. Bigger, Romantic, Enthusiast, and Antiquary’, in Causeway (Spring 1994), pp.5-7.

Bibliography, A. V. Hackett, W. Moore & W. Lauder, eds., A Catalogue of the Library of F. J. Bigger (1930), 302pp.; also, Catalogue of Belfast Central Library (1956) [of which this constitutes a significant part].

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Commentary
J. Anthony Gaughan, ed., Memoirs of Senator Joseph Connolly, 1885-1961: A Founder of Modern Ireland (IAP 1996), pp.76-77, on Ardri and the ‘birds of passage’ at Ardri, ‘a perfect bachelor’s home’, including Shane Leslie, Erskine Childers, Roger Casement, Alice Stopford Greene [sic], Lord Ashbourne (William Gibson), &c.

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Roger Dixon, ‘Apostle of the Living Legend: Francis Joseph Bigger, Belfast’s turn of the century cultural Don Quixote’, [&] ‘Fine Feiseanna: vernacular art and women in the national dream’, in Chris Moffat, ed., ‘Fin de Siecle: Arts and Crafts and the Celtic Perspective in Ireland: Northern perspectives’, Fortnight, 372 (July/August 1998), Special Supplement, pp.12-14: identifies Bigger’s vision as that of European nineteenth-century nationalist; distrusted cities and fostered dreams of a thriving rural Ireland; encouraged [quotation] ‘rural sports, pastimes, and cottage industries will grow up as of old in Ireland and the land will again be filed with newness of life and social joys will increase, and the people will depend upon themselves and their own efforts and aspirations; then, indeed the life blood of Ireland will begin to course again through the nation’s veins.’ (Pamphlet of 1907); restored pubs under Ulster Public House Trust, notably The Crown & Shamrock (Glengormley); The Templeton Arms, The Dunleath Arms (Ballywalter); The Mermaid (Kircubbin); pubs signs designed by John Vinycomb; had Irish pipes made by Belfast pipe-maker O’Meala, and later given to Francis McPeake, who was tutored by O’Reilly, the blind Galway piper, at Bigger’s expense; contested wisdom of cottage designs arising from Local Govt. Board competition, won by Manchester architect and published in Irish Independent; published criticism and alternative design with ill. as pamphlet, Labourers’ Cottages for Ireland (1907); spoke at opening of All Ireland Arts and Crafts Exhibition, Belfast, 1924.

Roger & Terry Dixon, ‘F. J. Bigger, Romantic, Enthusiast, and Antiquary’, in Causeway (Spring 1994), pp.5-7: inter alia, authors note the modern archaeologists’ testimony to his interference with a site in the phrase ‘well and truly Biggered’.

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Quotations
Ulster-isms: Preface to William Lutton, Montiaghisms: Ulster Dialect Words and Phrases (Armagh Guardian Office 1923), 46pp., being a survey of North Co. Armagh, compiled in 1840s and later published by Bigger: ‘[...] the number of items included contains about twenty-five percent of purely Gaelic origin, which is a large average in Ulster dialect. The character of the user of these words and phrases is shown in the use of abusive epithets, which amount to over thirteen percent, whilst terms of endearment to not reach half that figure.’ (Quoted in Michael Montgomery, ‘The Lexicography of Hiberno-English’, in Irish Studies: Working Papers, 93:3, Nova Southwestern, 1993, pp.20-35; pp.25-26.)

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Samuel Ferguson (Centenary Address), in The Irish Book Lover, Vol. I, No. 10 (May, 1910), 125: ‘They were assembled in Donegore that day, in that holy house and on that equally holy hill in their own beloved land, to place a wreath—an Irish wreath—upon the graves of Sir Samuel and Lady Ferguson, and the honour had been put upon him of being askedi to say a few words at that time. The grave was robbed of its sadness on the present occasion: There was a spring in the earth and a brightness in the sky, telling of hope and resurrection. Amongst the Gaels was an old belief in heroes slumbering in the hilltops in great caverns awaiting the times for them to ride forth, a mighty host, to right the wrongs of the people. Their heroes slumbered on the hilltops beside the massive moat, but in consecrated ground, and every pagan bitterness had been taken away, as it was in the lives of those who lived so gently, so humanly, so lovingly. To Ferguson was given the privilege of opening the closed gates of the past, calling forth the dead heroes from the mountains of suppression and ignorance, and they had rid­den forth, and no one could stay their progress.’ Further [quoting Mangan’s “My Dark Rosaleen”]: ‘With a knowledge of the past and such a line of conduct in the present, they could walk assured as to the future. The gates had been thrown open to them, and hitherto hidden forces were riding forth over our land. In most unexpected places, from most unanticipated quarters influences have generated all tending the one way—the regeneration of our country. God grant that the future might be as full of fruit as the present was full of promise. In placing that wreath on the Ferguson tomb, they were only acting as good citizens, and like mercy they were blessed in the giving. Might the soil of Ireland lie light upon the sleepers—might the people of Ireland know and love them, and follow their good example, and might all assembled there that day be the better Irishmen and Irishwomen for having stepped aside for a little while from the ordinary duties of every-day life to pause at the grave of a sweet Gaelic poet, a learned Irish antiquary, a loving husband and wife, and, above and beyond all, a true patriotic and tenderhearted Antrim man, Ulsterman, Irishman.’ (For full text, see under Samuel Ferguson, infra.)

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References
John Bardon, History of Ulster (1992), Francis Joseph Bigger, Ardrigh (demolished 1986); Presbyterian solicitor [sic] and Freemason; Sunday ‘firelight’ school, incl. uileann piper Francis ‘Da’ McPeake; romantic, mystical view of Gaelic past. Bardon cites precursor, Hardiman; Ferguson (Táin-Quest, Deirdre, Lays of Western Gael, and Congal, all called ‘somewhat overblown verse translations’); Dr William Reeves, Church of Ireland curate in Lisburn, rector of Ballymena, and bishop of Down, trans. Adamnan’s life of Colum Cille, used legacy of £300 to save Book of Armagh for the nation; George Sigerson, from Strabane; Sir Shane Leslie cousin of Winston Churchill, disinherited for prolific anti-Unionist writing; Roger Casement, of Ballycastle, organised feis at Cushendall, 1904, largely paid for by Bigger; Hannay, some-time exec. member of Gaelic League; Paul Henry and his brother Prof. Robt. H. Henry, who persuaded QUB to teach Gaelic; Robert Lynd and James Winder Good; Forrest Reid; Bulmer Hobson, Lisburn Quaker, founded with Bigger the Ulster Literary Theatre, 1902, and later Republican organiser; Harry Morrow, of Thompson in Tír na nÓg; actor-playwright Samuel Waddell; Helen Waddell; Alice Milligan, dg. of Protestant businessman in Omagh; Herbert Hughes, Methodist musicologist (all cited in Flann Campbell, 1991). Milligan joined by Ethna Carbery, dg. of veteran Fenian, to edit short-lived Shan Van Vocht; Bigger and Hughes toured Donegal collecting traditional melodies; produced Songs of Uladh with John and Joseph Campbell, 1904 (quotes account from Campbell of the composition to music by Hughes of “My Lagan Love”, citing Flann Campbell [son of Joseph]). [p.421f]

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Hyland Books (Cat. 219) lists Bigger, with R. L. Praeger & John Vinycomb, eds., Guide to Belfast and the Cos. of Down and Antrim by the Belfast naturalists[’] Field Club (1902).

Belfast Public Library holds Ulster Land War; Montiaghisms (Ulster dialect), collected by William Lutton and ed. F.J.B.; William Orr, in Maunsel Leaders of ‘98 series (1906); Franciscan Friary, Ballycastle; Alexander Mitchell; Amyas Griffiths [1916]; A[e]neas O’Haugha[m], fiction [n.d.]; Crossing the Bar (1926), essay; Four Shots from Dawn ([1919]), stories; In Remembrance (articles ed. by J.S. Crone) I/941.004; Niamh Chonghaill Ceann-chorr [Bangor] I/370; also Mrs. Siddons and the Stage of Belfast (1925).

University of Ulster Library holds Cat. [of his] Library, Cranfield Church .. (Belfast 1911), Crossing the Bar (Belf. 1926) Irish Penal Crosses; The Magees [family papers] (1916); Ulster Words and Phrases; The O’Neills; Personal Recollections; Churches of Tassuch and Nicholas; Ulster ... Land War; William Orr (Maunsel 1906); Bigger, intro. to James Mathews, The O’Neills of Ulster 3 vols. (Sealy & Bryers & Walker [n.d.])

University of Ulster Library, Morris Collection, holds Irish Penal Crosses 1713-1781 (1909); Some notes on the churches of St. Tassach or Raholp and St. Nicholas of Artole ... in the barony of Lecale in Down Padraig (1917), 15pp.

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Notes
Ubi sunt?: Bigger’s funerary monument was blown up by Protestant extremist at the beginning of the current troubles and his home Ard Righ demolished by developers. He was a ‘great lover of little boys’ in contemporary accounts and a close associate of Roger Casement.

Presbyterian franciscan?: Bigger was an Anglican of the Church of Ireland (information of Geoffrey Dudgeon).

Ardrigh/Airdrie: Bigger gives his address as ‘Airdrie, Belfast’ in his correspondence with The Irish Book Lover (Vol. I, &c.)

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