One of Dublin’s finest sculptors, John Henry Foley designed this imposing and remarkably beautiful memorial to Daniel O’Connell which was unveiled at the south end of what was called Sackville street – the name was changed to O’Connell street in 1924 – to admiring crowds gathered in the pouring rain on 15 August 1882.
In 1829, Daniel O’Connell, known as the ‘Liberator’, had achieved through political means religious freedom in Ireland after centuries of repression on Roman Catholics, the religion of the majority, and on other minority beliefs. His continuing efforts to have the hated Act of Union with Great Britain, dating from 1800, rescinded met with no success before he died on his way to Rome in 1847.
The process of raising this celebrated monument to the Irish leader Daniel O’Connell took over twenty years in all. O’Connell died in 1847, a subscription was started for his monument in 1862 “when O’Connell was still remembered primarily as the successful liberator of Catholic Ireland”, and the granite foundation stone for it was laid in 1864. Foley was then engaged on the project for the rest of his life, and, sadly, did not live to complete it — although only finishing touches (the statue’s boots, some parts of the clothing on the frieze, and the bodies of the four winged Victories round the plinth) remained to be done. This was one of several important works-in-process to be finished by his assistant Thomas Brock.
Above the splendidly winged Victories (representing Patriotism, Courage, Eloquence and Fidelity) and below the figure of O’Connell himself is an impressive circular frieze crowded with over thirty figures. In the front centre, the “Maid of Erin” points up at O’Connell, the liberator. The other figures include a bishop with his crosier, a workman with his hoe, a bewigged lawyer and so on, together representing all the elements of Irish society. Since the Victories are partly obscured by traffic lights, and the crowning figure of O’Connell shows the usual effects of exposure to bird-life, this frieze is perhaps the most striking part of the monument. It is a work of considerable gravitas and virtuosity and the high point of public sculpture in Dublin.