Francis Joseph Bigger









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Francis J Bigger was a noted antiquary and historian.  He was born in Belfast in 1863.  He was the seventh son of a seventh son of a Church of Ireland woollen family from Biggerstown near Mallusk, Co. Antrim.  He was educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institution, of which his grandfather was a founder, and in Liverpool. He studied law in Dublin and although he began to practise as a solicitor in 1888, he was devoted to the study of Irish archaeology and Ulster history. He revived the "Ulster Journal of Archaeology" of which he was editor from 1894-1914. A member of the Royal Irish Academy, he believed in the worth of Irish culture, especially folk music and song, and he advocated learning the Irish language. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and produced a series of pamphlets: "Irish Penal Crosses"; "The Ulster Land War of 1770"; and "The Northern Leaders of 98." In 1924 he edited "Ulster Dialect Words and Phrases." 
His house Ardrigh, which was demolished by developers in 1986, was a meeting-place for Northern nationalists.  Roger Casement was numbered among Bigger’s many and varied admirers.
At his own expense he restored public houses under Trust agreement; paid for a Gaelic feis at Cushendall, erected a granite slab over the grave of St Patrick at Downpatrick Cathedral; restored castles (such as Jordan’s Castle, Ardglass, purchased in 1911), churches, crosses and monuments.  Along with others he established the Ulster Public House Reform Association, with a model premises near Mallusk.  In 1909 he removed the bones of Henry Joy McCracken to his home, and later re-interred them in the McCracken family plot near Carlisle Circus.
His private library of three thousand volumes was given to the Belfast Public Library on his death 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). His papers and articles are held in the Linenhall Library, Belfast; the National Library of Ireland, and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. A selection of his work, Articles and Sketches, was published a year after his death.
Francis J Bigger was steeped in the tradition of the United Irishmen and the 1798 uprising, and using his personal influence and through his many writings, he educated the people of Ireland, and beyond, on the ethos and morality of the United Irishmen ideals. Those ideals are still the driving force of Republicanism today.