Looking at stories of the sculptor John Henry Foley, the beautiful Montgomery sisters, the 1916 leader James Connolly, the eccentric Earls of Aldborough, the boundary wall around the Custom House docks and one of Europe’s biggest red light districts.
Sculptor of an Empire
Foley Street is named for John Henry Foley, one of the most prolific sculptors in history, who was born here in 1818. Foley’s works adorned public squares from London to Kolkata to Virginia, USA, while there are more statues by him in Ireland than any other sculptor. These include the Daniel O’Connell monument on O’Connell Street and the statues of Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and Henry Grattan on College Green. He was personally selected by Queen Victoria to sculpt Prince Albert for the Albert Memorial in London. When he died in 1874, the queen insisted that he be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Boundary Wall
Two huge water-filled docks lie just a few hundred metres from where you now stand. Built over 200 years ago, the Custom House Docks were once the envy of the world. Along Commons Street and Amiens Street, you can see parts of the high wall erected to prevent citizens from plundering the tobacco, wine, spirits and other goods held in the dockside warehouses. The old Tobacco Store is now the CHQ Building; the wine vaults beneath are home to the award-winning EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum. A triumphal arch standing alongside George’s Dock was built to celebrate the victory over Emperor Napoleon.
Red Lights – The Monto
From the 1860s until its closure in 1925, the area just west of Connolly Station was one of the largest red-light districts in Europe, with upwards of 1,600 prostitutes at its peak. Nicknamed ‘The Monto’ after Montgomery Street, one of its main drags, it was especially popular with British soldiers stationed in the city. Consequently, the women who worked there could provide much useful information to Michael Collins’ republican forces during the War of Independence. The Monto was also home to the brothel that Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus visited in James Joyce’s Ulysses. A joint campaign by the Legion of Mary, a Catholic organisation, and the Dublin Police brought an end to the Monto in 1925.
Montgomery Street, now Foley Street, was named for the Montgomery sisters, three celebrated beauties painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1773. He was commissioned to paint ‘The Three Graces’ by the property tycoon Luke Gardiner, later Lord Mountjoy, who married Elizabeth Montgomery. Her sister Barbara married John Beresford, the statesman behind the Custom House, while Anne Montgomery’s husband, the Marquess Townshend, was Viceroy of Ireland from 1767 to 1772. Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square, Beresford Place and Townshend Street are all named for these people.
James Connolly, Revolutionary Thinker
Connolly Station is named for James Connolly, one of Europe’s most influential 20th century revolutionaries and political thinkers. Born in Scotland to Irish parents, he joined the British Army aged 14 but left soon afterwards and became an active socialist. In 1912 he co-founded the Irish Labour Party, as well as the Irish Citizen Army, which sought to defend workers against police brutality. During the Easter Rising of 1916, Connolly served as Commandant General of the Dublin Brigade. Fatally wounded at the GPO, he was subsequently tied to a chair and shot by a firing squad.
The Stratfords, Earls of Aldborough
Edward Stratford, 2nd Earl of Aldborough, used some of the fortune he made from the linen industry to build Aldborough House, a handsome townhouse 500m north of Connolly Station. He also developed Amiens Street, which he named after the city of Amiens in northern France where his ancestors were said to have originated.
The Stratfords were famous for hosting horse-races, cock-fighting and gambling parties during the 19th century, as well as a match-making festival. Belan House, their home in County Kildare, was among the biggest houses in Ireland but became a ruin on the watch of the reclusive 6th and last Earl.