Monday, September 10, 2012

'The Work and Progress of the Gael' - 100 years ago last night...


... on 9 September 1912 the renowned / infamous historian, antiquarian and Irish nationalist Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926, see biography here) held a public meeting at St Patrick's Parochial Hall in Portaferry. Bigger had recently completed his conversion of Jordan Castle in Ardglass into an O'Neill castle (which he renamed Castle Shane) and so was fairly active in the Lecale area. There is a fascinating account in the Newtownards Chronicle of how Bigger and William Gibson sailed from Strangford at 7pm, across the 'limpid waters of the lough in a dignified manner in well-lighted boats', landed at Portaferry, paraded the town led by torch bearers, and held the event where the theme was 'The Work and Progress of the Gael'. Earlier in the day there had been 'childish' rumours circulating that some from Portavogie intended to disrupt the meeting, but nothing of the sort happened - '...the eternal vigilance of the R.I.C. under the command of Sergeant Reynolds and Constable Breen was largely in evidence; but this was as unnecessary as it was ridiculous...the Portaferry police were too sharp to be bamboozled'.

I plan to type up the full newspaper account and post it here soon. It stresses yet again that despite valid differences of opinion, people got on well with each other.

Bigger was a remarkable character and collector, who did a great deal to preserve old stories and traditions. Some say he maybe even invented a few along the way! His story was recently published as "FJ Bigger - Ireland's Cultural Visionary" (see here for info).

• St Patrick's Parochial Hall is now available for hire as holiday accommodation (click here). A replica is at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum (click here).


Chrissy Ramone said...

Very good piece Mark. Interesting to note as well that Frankie Howerd's character in Carry On Doctor was called Francis Bigger. Coincidence or just the fact that the surname is a raging double entendre?!