Digges, Joseph Robert Garven (1857–1933), anglican clergyman and beekeeper, was born 8 December 1857, probably in Dublin, youngest of the four sons and five daughters of Henry Digges and Eliza Stokes, who were married (7 June 1836) in the church of St Nicholas Within, Dublin. They lived from 1843 in the house (no. 49) attached to the trustee Trinity Church, 50 Lower Gardiner St., Dublin, where Henry was registrar. His father's main occupation was as cabinetmaker, upholsterer, undertaker, and later ‘valuator’, with premises at 63 (later 84) Talbot St., Dublin. The Digges family was of English origin, but had been in Ireland since the seventeenth century. J. R. G. Digges was educated at the High School, 40 Harcourt St., Dublin, from 19 September 1871 to 30 April 1873. He entered TCD as a pensioner on 1 November 1873, and was awarded the degrees of BA (Resp.) (1882) and MA (1885). Ordained in 1883, he became deacon in Kilmore, Co. Cavan, later becoming curate at Mohill, Co. Leitrim, until 1884, and then from 1884 to 1885 at St George's, High St., Belfast. In 1885 he became the private chaplain to the Clements family at their Lough Rynn estate at Mohill, Co. Leitrim, diocese of Armagh, from where he served Farnaght and Mohill churches. Early in 1933 he became the rector of Cloone, Co. Leitrim. He lived at Clooncahir rectory, on the Lough Rynn estate, from 1885 until he died in August 1933.
The uses of beeswax and honey had been recorded in Ireland from the earliest times, and in the seventh century the Old Irish law-tract ‘Bechbretha’ was written. The products of the hive were used for wax candles, mead, metheglin, and honey, but it was only in the nineteenth century, when honey became the most important of these, and after the movable-frame hive had been invented (1851) and the bee-space had been discovered, that the beekeeper was able to remove the honey crop without killing the bees. Beekeeping in Ireland was greatly helped by Digges, who promoted these new discoveries. He had his first beekeeping lesson in 1885 and joined the Irish Beekeepers Association, becoming chairman from 1910 to 1921. The Irish Bee Journal, published by the association with Digges as editor, was founded in 1901; in 1902, after some heated disagreements, Digges became the owner-editor. In 1912 he launched the Beekeeper's Gazette, using some of the same papers, but with some extra material. These two journals were published monthly in almost unbroken sequence until his death. In 1904 he published the Irish bee guide, later changing the name to the Practical bee guide, which has been the most widely read and useful book on Irish beekeeping. Unfortunately, in this book he used illustrations from another beekeeping journal without permission, and the controversey was not finally sorted out until three years after Digges died. 76,000 copies of the Practical bee guide (a clearly written and straightforward instruction book for humane beekeeping, with cross-referencing and illustrations) were sold, in sixteen editions, the last published in 1950. The IBA promoted lectures all over Ireland, exhibited at agricultural shows, and promoted competitions.
Digges's clerical duties at Lough Rynn were not onerous, and he became a director of the Cavan & Leitrim railway and of the Arigna mines in 1892, and ‘was to earn high repute as a first-class trouble-shooter’ (Flanagan, 1966). He was a keen golfer, with a holiday home next to the golf club at Rosses Point, Co. Sligo. Musical, he trained the church choir and taught in the Sunday school, although his methods were very intimidatory. He organised local concerts and dances, which were attended by all creeds and classes, and ‘his supervision at these events was beyond comparison’ (personal communication). He promoted many local cooperative institutions, including the bank and creamery, and was on the council of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland. Digges joined Masonic Lodge no. 243 in Belfast in 1885, moving to Lodge no. 242 in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, and finally to Lodge no. 495 in Mohill in 1890. He died suddenly during a confirmation service at Farnaght church on 6 August 1933 and was buried beside his wife at Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin.
He married (6 August 1885) Edith Helena Louisa (d. 1926), daughter of Henry Alexander Bate, a Belfast solicitor, at St George's, Belfast. They had two children, Ethel Elizabeth Alice and Harold Stokes. There is a splendid stained-glass memorial window in Farnaght church, by Ethel Rhind (qv) of An Túr Gloine, which depicts St Mo-Domnóc (qv) bringing the bees to Ireland.