Tag Archives: Daniel O'Connell

John Henry Foley — Sculptor of the Empire

Sculp­tor of the Empire

I was sit­ting under the Daniel O’Con­nell Mon­u­ment in Dublin one sum­mer morn­ing about 3am and my gaze wan­dered up to the edi­fice above me. There stood Daniel in all his swag­ger and all these inter­est­ing char­ac­ters sur­round­ing him. I did not know then the sto­ry about the mon­u­ment and how it came about, but the next day I start­ed research­ing.  Fund­ing came from the Broad­cast­ing Asso­ci­a­tion of Ire­land and TG4 and the quest to unrav­el the many mys­ter­ies of John Hen­ry Foley, the man who cre­at­ed the O’Con­nell Mon­u­ment  began.  I found out that  Foley was regard­ed as. the world’s most pow­er­ful sculp­tor of pub­lic stat­u­ary in his day, that he was born in Dublin, learned his craft at the Roy­al Dublin Soci­ety, and at a very young age was not­ed for his genius. As his fame grew his work was being erect­ed  all over the British Empire, in par­tic­u­lar Britain, Ire­land and India. He became a per­son­al friend of Queen Vic­to­ria and her hus­band Albert. He cre­at­ed Albert and Asia for the Albert Memo­r­i­al in Lon­don. He was work­ing on Albert at the same time as Daniel O’Con­nell, so it must have been strange to see both these works rep­re­sent­ing dif­fer­ent ide­olo­gies, present in the same stu­dio. There is a dark side to the doc­u­men­tary. Long after Foley died a lot of his work became con­tentious because of his asso­ci­a­tion with the Empire. The IRA attacked Lord Gough in the Phoenix Park. Ire­land’s most famous Eques­tri­an stat­ue was blown up, lat­er restored by the Irish Gov­ern­ment and then smug­gled out of Ire­land and  Gough now stands for­lorn in Chill­ing­ham Cas­tle. Robert Guin­ness who arranged the trans­fer has stat­ed “Ire­land can have it back any­time but they must tak­er the rid­er as well as the horse”. There is a hilar­i­ous moment in the film where Sen­a­tor David Nor­ris reads ‘The Bal­lad of Gough’ by Vin­cent Caprani. Anoth­er odd­i­ty is how Foley’s Dublin stat­ue of Prince Albert was hid­den in the car park of Dail Eire­ann, with spe­cial­ly plant­ed trees con­ceal­ing him, for fear of attack by repub­li­cans. Still, Foley has more works on dis­play in Ire­land than any oth­er artist. Father Matthew in Cork, Ben­jamin Guin­ness, in Saint Patrick­’s Cathe­dral, Oliv­er Gold­smith and Edmund Burke in Trin­i­ty Col­lege, and Edmund Burke out­side Ire­land’s old Par­lia­ment on Col­lege Green. India took a dif­fer­ent response than Ire­land to it’s Empire stat­ues. After inde­pen­dence they round­ed up all the stat­u­ary imposed on them and moved them to sculp­tur­al grave­yards. I dis­cov­ered great archive of this and used it for the film. India made one excep­tion and released Foley’s stat­ue of Lord Out­ram from cap­tiv­i­ty. This stat­ue of Out­ram on his horse was so loved by the peo­ple of Cal­cut­ta that by pub­lic pres­sure he was moved to the Vic­to­ria muse­um and is now enjoyed for the art rather than the sym­bol. The moti­va­tion for the film start­ed on that sum­mer night many years ago and the result, I hope, is a chal­lenge to us all, of find­ing a way of pre­serv­ing our past her­itage, good or bad, so that future gen­er­a­tions can learn their own history.