Friday, 12 February 2016

Jerome Connor Place

Most passers-by won't even know it's there: the humble plaque sunk into the wall near the top of Infirmary Road, where the herds of 46a buses congregate.

Let's give it a dekko.

The brass plate commemorates a rather unusual artist. You might not know his name though you may have come across some of his work, such as the Robert Emmet statue in St Stephen's Green, or the Lusitania memorial in Cobh, County Cork.

At one time he had a studio in Dublin, around the corner from this very plaque, and in 1993 the corporation renamed the little lane after him: Plás Dhiarmada Uí Chonchúir, Jerome Connor Place, Dublin 7.

The plaque has a gem of an obituary poem by the sculptor's good friend Patrick Kavanagh:

“He sits in a corner of my memory
With his short pipe, holding it by the bowl,
And his sharp eye and his knotty fingers
And his laughing soul
Shining through the gaps of his crusty wall”

So who exactly was this laughing soul?

Jerome Connor (1874-1943) was a major fine art sculptor, yet he had no formal art education. He grew up on a small farm at Coumduff near Annascaul in County Kerry. When he was 14 his father sold the farm and took the family to Massachusetts; Jerome's eldest brother was already settled there. His dad died just two years later.

In his teens Jerome worked as a stone-cutter, machinist and sign-painter. Around 1896 he moved to New York, financed by some winnings as a prizefighter. In 1899 he moved to Roycroft, East Aurora, New York State, to a community based on the Arts and Crafts Movement principles of William Morris.

After that it was onwards and upwards for young Jerome, who became a much-in-demand sculptor. He returned from the US to Dublin in 1925, opening a studio based on two commissions (one for the Lusitania Memorial and the other the Elbert Hubbard Memorial).

But post-civil war Ireland was broke. Of his Irish projects, only the American-financed Robert Emmet statue in St Stephen's Green was realised in his lifetime. He died, penniless, in 1943.

And I'm still trying to figure out how to smuggle Jerome Connor Place into the next book...