Francis Joseph Bigger

(06/10/1861 - 08/03/1926)

Francis Joseph Bigger, born in 1863 in Belfast on Little Donegall Street, was a multifaceted personality known for his contributions to Irish culture, history, and archaeology. Bigger road in Walkinstown is named after. His life’s work left an lasting mark on Belfast and beyond, earning him recognition as an Irish antiquarian, revivalist, solicitor, architect, author, editor, Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

Bigger, the seventh son o Joseph Bigger and Mary Jane Ardery of Ballyvalley, was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. His family’s influence, including his grandfather David Bigger’s role as a governor, shaped his formative years.

Bigger’s architectural endeavours included the restoration of Jordan’s Castle in Ardglass, which he later bequeathed to the state in 1911. His engagement in architectural matters extended to a complaint published in the Irish Independent in 1907 about plans for cottages. This led to his own designs, presented in “Labourers’ Cottages for Ireland” (Bigger 1907), showcasing his unique and sometimes eccentric approach.

Bigger’s residence, Ardrigh House on Antrim Road, Belfast, became a cultural hub frequented by notable figures like Douglas Hyde, Roger Casement, and Francis McPeake. These interactions fostered a community known as the “Ardrigh coterie,” comprising Republicans, early separatists, and cultural enthusiasts.

He was a key figure in the Gaelic League and played a crucial role in reviving the Ulster Journal of Archaeology in 1894, actively editing it until 1914. Bigger’s interest in archaeology is still remembered, with sites he explored informally referred to as being “well and truly Biggered.”

As a prolific author, Bigger wrote on various aspects of Irish culture, language, and archaeology. His best-known work, “The Ulster Land War of 1770,” and numerous articles in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology attest to his commitment to preserving and promoting Irish heritage.

He also supported and financed artistic endeavours, such as Herbert Hughes’ “Songs of Uladh.” Bigger’s contributions extended to founding the Ulster Literary Theatre in 1902, exemplifying his dedication to fostering Irish arts.

In recognition of his contributions to local history and archaeology, Queen’s University Belfast awarded Bigger a master’s degree in 1926. He passed away at home in 1926, leaving behind a rich cultural tapestry woven through his diverse endeavours.

Francis Joseph Bigger’s impact as an architect, antiquarian, and cultural visionary endures, a testament to his unwavering commitment to preserving and promoting Ireland’s rich heritage.

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Connection with area: Antiquary, nationalist and Celtic revival polymath who Bigger Road, Walkinstown was named after.