Biggs, Michael (1928–93), sculptor and letter-cutter, was born 26 August 1928 in Stockport, Cheshire, England, of English parents, second son of Claud Biggs, musician and teacher at the RIAM, Dublin, and Marjorie Biggs (née Markham). He was educated at St Columba's College, Dublin, and TCD (1946–9), which he left without graduating, and served in the British army as a National Service recruit, which he described as the most alarming experience of his life.
Inspired by the writings of Eric Gill (1882–1940) (Gill's younger brother Evan was his godfather) with a love of alphabets and stone-carving, he decided to become a letter-cutter, and, since most inscriptions were commemorative, a gravestone-maker. Entering the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, Ditchling, Sussex, a self-sufficient community of craftsmen, he studied stone-carving and lettering under Joseph Cribb in 1948 and 1950. Returning to Dublin, he studied wood-engraving under Elizabeth Rivers. His early work was mainly inscriptional: in wood, stone, and bronze, he inscribed memorial stones and plaques, as on the ‘Messiah’ memorial, Fishamble St., Dublin (1959), and on pedestals for statues, as on the Thomas Davis (qv) statue, College Green, Dublin (c.1965). He wrought the large granite fountain with its inscriptions in the J. F. Kennedy Memorial Park, New Ross, Co. Wexford (1968), and inscribed several national memorials, including the gravestones of the leaders of the 1916 rising (1963), and the memorial wall at Arbour Hill cemetery, Dublin, where he carved in English and Irish the 5,000 letters of the 1916 proclamation (1959–63).
His graphic work includes book illustrations for the Dolmen press, notably a wood-engraved frontispiece for the Nativity from the Holy Gospel according to St Luke (1953), which resembles a Biggs family portrait; Brian Merriman's (qv) The midnight court (1953); and A Gaelic alphabet (1960). As the typographer on the Servicon Planning and Design team, he designed a typeface adapted from the classical Irish letter-form for a new set of banknotes (1976–84).
Considered Ireland's finest carver of stone, he carved his first altar for the Convent of Mercy, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone (1965), and continued to carve stone sanctuary furnishings in response to the new liturgical movement following the second Vatican council, which brought the sanctuary into the main body of the church. He carved altars, ambos, sedilias, and fonts for many churches throughout Ireland, including St Michael's church, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin (1973); St Conal's, Glenties, Co. Donegal (1974); Holy Cross abbey, Thurles, Co. Tipperary (1975); and the Star of the Sea church, Rostrevor, Co. Down (1990). His biggest project was the complete reordering of St Macartan's cathedral, Monaghan (1982–7), which included the sanctuary furnishings in stone and timber, exquisite examples of his lettering, and five tapestries designed by his wife Frances. Dedicated to his work, a perfectionist, he was the subject of Joe Mulholland's RTÉ television programme, ‘Michael Biggs: artist in stone’ (1973). He was elected to Aosdána in 1989.
He was a gentle man, affectionate and generous; apart from painting and architecture he was well versed in history and literature, had a great love of music, delighted in conversation, and was rarely without his pipe. During his last years he suffered ill health. Received into the catholic church shortly before his death (26 November 1993), Biggs was cremated after requiem mass in the Gonzaga College chapel, Dublin, where he had designed the sanctuary furnishings and Frances, his wife, all the stained-glass windows. He was buried beside his son Paul in St Patrick's church, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. His works are listed in Daphne Whelan, ‘Michael Biggs: a life of letters and stones’ (thesis, NCAD, 1996). He married (1953) Frances Dooly, a talented violinist, artist, designer of stained-glass windows and tapestries; they had three sons and two daughters.