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JH Foley – Master Sculptor

JH Foley

JH Foley

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.

Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O’Connell




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Night of the living Dead!

There are many ways to bring in the New Year, and celebrating James Joyce’s famous novella The Dead is a fine way indeed. The story takes place on the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan 6), and the gathering that was organised by the good folks of Sweny’s Pharmacy was memorable and true to the great man’s work.

The bar in the Teacher’s Club was thronged with excited diners who were dressed in period-style attire, men in dark suits and ladies in long, stylish dresses. Quite a few wore pretty hats, and there much netting on show. All were ready for the feast, and the large room was soon full and bubbling in excited anticipation. The room itself with its high, decorative ceiling, large gilded mirror, tall windows and subdued lighting was the perfect setting, something that even Joyce would have approved of. The dinner, in which the goose was cooked (wonderfully!) was sumptuous and led to much animated discussion. Unlike Mary Jane in the story who says’…when we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome,’ there was nothing like that heard as diners happily tucked into the tasty food. 

'Dead' centre!

‘Dead’ centre!

'Gabriel Conroy'

‘Gabriel Conroy’

After dinner, with diners enjoying port and chocolates, the actor Shane Egan delivered a faithful rendering of  Gabriel Conroy’s speech which went down a treat. There were a few ‘Here, here,’ and ‘Well done,’ shouted out as he proceeded and nods of approval when he said ‘..not the first time that we have been recipients, or perhaps, I had better say, the victims, of the hospitality of certain good ladies.’ This got the biggest cheer, and we all realised that being a victim felt, well, really good!

After that the room was buzzing with noisy chatter as we waited for the evening’s entertainment to begin. The pianist introduced the singers who sang The Lass of Aughrim; Yes, Let Me Like a Soldier Fall, and many others to rapturous applause. I knew that Joyce had been an accomplished singer, but was completely unprepared for what one of my table guests said between songs. ‘Did you know that Joyce took singing lessons from a teacher, one Dr. Vincent O’Brien, in this very room.’ I and my fellow diners were gobsmacked. ‘And he immortalised O’Brien, by name, who conducts a large choir in the singing of the chorus from Handel’s Messiah, in the Circe episode in Ulysses.’  Well, how about that, I thought, as I turned around to take in the space where Joyce once sang. Now that was really something – an epiphany maybe – and a memorable start to the year. Cheers!

Let the entertainment begin!

Let the entertainment begin!

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Filed under Dublin, James Joyce