As we mark 200 years since the birth of the coun­try’s most iconic and beloved sculp­tor...

Irish Daily Mail - - Comment - See dublin­cas­tle.ie/event/ fo­ley200/ for de­tails of this Sun­day’s event. by Tur­tle Bun­bury

JOHN Henry Fo­ley (1818-1874) was prob­a­bly the most in­flu­en­tial sculp­tor in Ir­ish his­tory. Born in Dublin, his breath­tak­ing stat­ues and eques­trian mas­ter­pieces be­decked city squares and park­lands from Dublin to Kolkata to Vir­ginia.

His best-known Ir­ish works in­clude the Daniel O’Con­nell mon­u­ment on O’Con­nell Street and the Fa­ther Mathew statue in Cork. Queen Vic­to­ria per­son­ally re­quested that Fo­ley cre­ate the statue of her beloved hus­band for the Al­bert Me­mo­rial in Lon­don. When Fo­ley died, the queen de­creed that the gifted Irishman be buried in West­min­ster Abbey, an ex­tra­or­di­nary hon­our for a man born into rel­a­tive poverty in Dublin’s north­side.

A boy ge­nius, he was ed­u­cated at the Royal Dublin So­ci­ety’s Draw­ing Schools at Le­in­ster House, where he won nu­mer­ous prizes in mod­el­ling. He then moved to the Royal Academy in Lon­don to de­velop his ca­reer.

In 1844, he won a con­test to sculpt two fig­ures for the newly re­stored Houses of Par­lia­ment at West­min­ster. There­after, he was never short of por­trait com­mis­sions in Bri­tain, Ire­land and across the Em­pire.

Fo­ley’s works were fated to pro­voke con­tro­versy long af­ter his death. His hat-trick of im­pe­ri­al­ist eques­trian stat­ues in Kolkata were dis­man­tled af­ter In­dian in­de­pen­dence. Sev­eral of his Ir­ish works were also de­stroyed – his statue of Lord Dunkellin was heaved into the River Cor­rib by the peo­ple of Gal­way in 1922; his Dublin mon­u­ments to Lord Carlisle and Gen­eral Gough were blown sky-high in the 1950s.

The de­bate on whether all of his works should re­main con­tin­ues. In Feb­ru­ary 2018, the Oireach­tas Pe­ti­tions Com­mit­tee re­jected a pe­ti­tion seek­ing the re­moval of his statue of Prince Al­bert from Le­in­ster Lawn by Dáil Éire­ann.

To mark the bi­cen­te­nary of Fo­ley’s birth in 1818, film­maker Sé Merry Doyle and my­self have teamed up with the Of­fice of Pub­lic Works to host ‘Ire­land Salutes John Henry Fo­ley’, an af­ter­noon of film, talks and de­bate at Dublin Cas­tle this Sun­day, May 20. The other speak­ers who will gather to con­sider Fo­ley’s life and times in­clude Dr Patrick Wal­lace, Dr Paula Mur­phy, Ja­son El­lis and Ro­nan Shee­han.

Here, we look at some of Fo­ley’s finest pieces of work.


‘Let school­mas­ters puzzle their brain, with gram­mar, and non­sense, and learn­ing, Good liquor, I stoutly main­tain, gives ge­nius a bet­ter dis­cern­ing.’ So opined the 18th-cen­tury nov­el­ist, poet and play­wright Oliver Gold­smith, whose bronze statue Fo­ley com­pleted in 1864. It stands by the main en­trance of Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin, where Gold­smith ‘stud­ied’ in the 1740s. The poet was no model stu­dent; he learned how to drink, play cards, mas­ter the flute and sing Ir­ish airs shortly be­fore he was sus­pended for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a riot. Fo­ley ig­nored such trivia, de­pict­ing a pensive, slightly awk­ward Gold­smith hold­ing an open book and a pen­cil, with a fine neck­er­chief. Queen Vic­to­ria chipped in £100 to fund the work.


‘All that is nec­es­sary for the tri­umph of evil is that good men do noth­ing.’ Such pre­scient words, at­trib­uted to Burke, com­bined with his op­po­si­tion to the Pe­nal Laws and his sup­port of the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion, made the Dubliner the hero of the lib­eral world in the 1780s.

His bronze statue, cre­ated by Fo­ley, stands on the ad­ja­cent lawn to Gold­smith out­side Trin­ity Col­lege, where Burke founded the Col­lege His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. The great or­a­tor stands tall and de­ter­mined, elo­quent and fash­ion­ably at­tired. His statue was un­veiled in 1868 by the Prince of Wales (later king Ed­ward VII).


In Fo­ley’s de­pic­tion of Henry Grat­tan, the emi­nent Ir­ish pa­triot has his right hand out­stretched, frozen in time at the very mo­ment in which he tri­umphantly de­clared Ire­land’s leg­isla­tive in­de­pen­dence from the UK. Com­mis­sioned by Dublin Corporation, it stands on Col­lege Green, di­rectly op­po­site the for­mer Par­lia­ment House, where Grat­tan was such an im­mense pres­ence, and on the very spot where the Vol­un­teers pa­raded in their thou­sands to sup­port him.

The statue was un­veiled in 1876 by his daugh­ter-in-law, Lady Laura Grat­tan.


Fo­ley’s elab­o­rate mon­u­ment to the mem­ory of the Lib­er­a­tor on the cap­i­tal city’s main thor­ough­fare is his best-known work in his na­tive Dublin.

The four winged ‘Vic­to­ries’ at the lime­stone base rep­re­sent Pa­tri­o­tism, Fi­delity, Courage and Elo­quence, while the fig­ures sur­round­ing the drum em­body all classes ‘from the peer to the peas­ant’ who sup­ported O’Con­nell, who died in 1847.

The fig­ure of O’Con­nell stands 14ft (4.2 me­tres) in height, clad in his fa­mous cloak, while Erin holds the Catholic Eman­ci­pa­tion Act.

Un­veiled in 1882, eight years af­ter Fo­ley’s death, the mon­u­ment was com­pleted by his ap­pren­tice Thomas Brock. Im­pres­sive: Statue of Daniel O’Con­nell in Dublin city cen­tre


Guin­ness, the brew­ing mag­nate – a grand­son of the orig­i­nal Arthur Guin­ness – was the rich­est man in Ire­land from 1855 until his death in 1868. His hand­somely seated statue rests on a pedestal of Aberdeen gran­ite and de­picts a thought­ful, benev­o­lent Sir Ben­jamin pon­der­ing the ar­chi­tec­tural plans for the restora­tion of St Patrick’s Cathe­dral, a project he sin­gle-hand­edly fi­nanced.

The bronze statue, which was un­veiled at the south side of the cathe­dral in 1875, is be­lieved to be the last work to re­ceive ‘the fi­nal touches’ of Fo­ley’s own hand.


The whole of Cork took the day off when Fo­ley’s statue of Fr Mathew, the Apos­tle of Tem­per­ance, was un­veiled in 1864. The Ca­puchin friar founded the To­tal Ab­sti­nence So­ci­ety, a move­ment that racked up over four mil­lion mem­bers through­out Ire­land at one point. It led to a mas­sive fall in crime, and the clo­sure of sev­eral brew­eries and dis­til­leries. Fr Mathew is rep­re­sented in the act of bless­ing a mul­ti­tude who have just taken the pledge. The unveiling co­in­cided with the cen­te­nary of his birth. When Cork’s mayor called for ‘three cheers for Fr Mathew,’ an es­ti­mated 100,000 Corko­nian voices hur­ra­hed.


In 1847, Prince Al­bert, Queen Vic­to­ria’s hus­band, gave Fo­ley’s ca­reer a boost when he ac­quired one of the Irishman’s works for his pri­vate col­lec­tion at Os­borne House. Twenty years later, the queen vis­ited Fo­ley’s Lon­don stu­dio and in­vited him to sculpt a me­mo­rial to her late hus­band.

Vic­to­ria, who en­sured Fo­ley was ‘hand­somely re­mu­ner­ated’ from her ‘pri­vate purse’, was de­lighted with his ‘re­mark­ably fine and dig­ni­fied’ statue. The ten-tonne bronze cre­ation sits to­day un­der a starry canopy at the Al­bert Me­mo­rial in Hyde Park.

Fo­ley was work­ing on a sculp­ture group called ‘Asia’ for the cor­ner of the me­mo­rial when he was seized with an at­tack of pleurisy.


Fo­ley’s Gough is the Humpty Dumpty of stat­ues, pieced to­gether again and again af­ter a se­ries of vi­o­lent at­tacks. The eques­trian mon­u­ment de­picts Hugh Gough, a Lim­er­ick-born war hero, who led the Bri­tish Army to vic­tory over the Sikhs and cap­tured the Pun­jab. The statue of this ‘most il­lus­tri­ous Irishman’ was cast in bronze from the metal of guns taken in Gough’s Sikh campaign. A young Win­ston Churchill was present when it was un­veiled in Phoenix Park in 1880.

Per­sis­tently sab­o­taged by repub­li­cans, the statue was all but de­stroyed by an ex­plo­sion in 1957. In 1986, it was re­moved from the coun­try for safe­keep­ing, and is now in the grounds of Chilling­ham Cas­tle, Northum­ber­land.

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