John Henry Foley (usually referred to as JH Foley) was born on 24th May 1818 at 6 Montgomery Street, Dublin. It was better known as ‘The Monto’ the street at the centre of the city’s red-light district and called ‘Nighttown’ in Joyce’s Ulysses. It was made famous by the Dubliners when they sang George Desmond Hodnett’s song Monto (Take Her Up To Monto). It was subsequently renamed in honour of Foley’s work as the pre-eminent sculptor of his time.
The young Foley had plenty of artistic influence around him as his father Jesse, who came from Winchester, was a glass-blower and his step grandfather Benjamin Schrowder was a sculptor. His older brother, Edward, showed him the way as he had taken up a career in sculptor, and JH entered the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in 1831. He was an ardent student and before long won a number of prizes and recognition, and left to join his brother in London three years later. He studied at the prestigious Royal Academy from 1835, and he exhibited his first piece there in 1839. In 1844 his sculpture Youth at a Stream won him fame and a steady line of commissions that remained for the rest of his life.
As he was based in London his studio was always busy and he won some very favourable commissions that included sculptures for the Mansion House; and one of the four stone groups on the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. Afterwards he was asked to make the bronze statue of the price that was the centre-piece of the memorial. His sculptures of military men, and most noticeably his carving of their horses is considered exceptional.
In Dublin his most prominent works are those of Daniel O’Connell on O’Connell St, and Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and Henry Grattan on College Green. A number of his statues, however, were considered ‘hostile’ to the newly emerging Ireland in the 1920s and they were either damaged or removed. Although this happened many years after his death, the mark he did leave upon his native city is considerable and much appreciated.
He died on 27th August 1874, was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral and left all his models to the RDS.