The family moved to Holyoake, Massachussets in the United States in the 1890s.
Jerome ran away from home, settling in New York. After trying many trades (foundry-man, professional prize fighter, machinist, sign painter, Japanese intelligence officer in Mexico, stonecutter) he became a sculptor.
When the Irish Free State achieved independence in 1922, Connor returned to the country and executed designs for the new coinage and made relief portraits of the leading politicians of the time.
In 1925 he won a prestigious commission from a New York committee to create a monument in Cobh, Co. Cork to commemorate the lives lost in the sinking of the Lusitania. Sadly, eighteen years later, at the time of his death, the project had not been completed. Connor had become a bankrupt and alcoholic, and died in a Dublin slum aged 67. The Lusitania Monument was eventually completed by another artist.
Time Magazine, on the occasion of his death wrote:
Jerome Connor, Irish sculptor, was as elusive as an Irish moonbeam. In all the recent arts of Ireland there was no evanescence quite like his. He was the man who was going to carve a memorial to the dead of the Lusitania in the waterfront square of the town of Cobh, an easy gull’s flight from the Lusitania’s ocean grave.
For 18 years the carving of that memorial was imminent. Eighteen years ago Jerome Connor pocketed a substantial advance sum for the work from the memorial committee in New York and went off to his Dublin studio to get busy. And then Jerome Connor’s evanescence began to manifest itself.
His friend, the poet Patrick Kavanagh, wrote of him:
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.
Major works by Connor in the United States:
- Archbishop John Carroll Monument, Georgetown University, Washington DC
- The Nuns of the Battlefield, Washington DC
- Elbert Hubbard Statue, East Aurora, New York
- Robert Emmet, Smithsonian Institute, Washington
- The Supreme Sacrifice, District Buildings, Washington
Major works by Connor in Ireland
- Robert Emmet, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin
- Éire monument, Merrion Square, Dublin
- Lusitania Monument, Cobh
Commemorating Jerome Connor
Although Jerome Connor has been an overlooked artist, since the centenary of his birth in 1974 there have been a number of exhibitions and attempts to bring his work to a wider audience. This has led to the creation of a collection of works by Connor being brought together as a permanent exhibition in his native village from 2014.
1974: A reception was held in the National Gallery of Ireland. Annascaul was represented by Mary Kennedy, Dan Kennedy, Sean Keane and John Falvey, all of Coumduff.
The late Domhnall O’Murchu RHA donated a commemorative plaque celebrating the centenary of Connor’s birth.
Two monuments were erected: one in a garden site in the village donated by Kerry County Council and one in Coumduff donated by Sean and Hannie Keane.
1976: Jerome Connor’s Éire monument was unveiled in Merrion Square, Dublin. According to Sorcha Ní Bhriain, writing in Poetry Ireland News in 2003, the statue had a chequered history.
Originally commissioned by the Kerry Poets Memorial Committee in the late 1930s to mark the place of execution of Piaras Feiritéir (1610-1653) in Killarney, the work was rejected as too “pagan” when Connor refused to include a religious symbol. Connor’s design was based on the imagery of Walt Whitman’s poem Old Ireland. The committee sued Connor for the return of the money they had advanced him and this was what led to his bankruptcy and the loss of his Dublin studio. The committee instead commissioned Seamus Murphy to carve An Spéirbhean, a limestone representation of the “muse of poets”.
Éire was finally cast in bronze in Dublin many years after Connor’s death. Erected in Merrion Square, with neither a title nor an acknowledgement of the sculptor, it bears a plaque inscribed “This statue was presented by Joseph Downes and Son Ltd. in Dec. 1976 to commemorate the centenary of the ButterCrust Bakery, Dublin”.
1988: Éigse Jerome Connor, a celebration of his work was held. Commemorative plaques by Michael O’Hea were unveiled and eight plaster casts, to be cast in bronze, were donated to the Annascaul community by Domhnall O’Murchu RHA.
1990: The setting up of the Jerome Connor Trust with National Gallery participation to own the new collection. P J Moriarty, Chief Executive of the ESB, agreed to fund the process following an approach by the Annascaul Development Association.
1993: A month long exhibition of Connor’s work took place in the National Gallery of Ireland sponsored by the ESB. The gallery published a book, Jerome Connor, Irish-American Sculptor, written by Giolla O’Murchu and edited by Fionnuala Croke, including a catalogue of the exhibition.
Extra pieces were acquired by the ESB for the collection.
1995: Fundraising launch by Tanáiste Dick Spring in ESB offices, Dublin.
1997: First exhibition of trust collection in Annascaul Community Centre.
1999: Foundation stone of Jerome Connor School of Sculpture laid by Minister Síle De Valera.
2000: Official opening of the building by Minister John O’Donoghue
2000-2002: Two successful stone-carving courses sponsored by FÁS and run by Tom Little. Two exhibitions of works produced by the trainees during their courses.
2001: Kindred Spirits sculpture exhibition: works by Jerome Connor and Domhnall O’Murchu RHA. This was the first showing of Connor’s sculptures in the Jerome Connor Centre. The exhibition was dedicated to the memory of Domhnall O’Murchu RHA and Mairin Allen, art historian, in recognition of their advocacy of Connor’s work.
2007: Third exhibition of collection at Arts and Sculpture Weekend in Annascaul.
Agreement signed between Thomas Kennedy and the Jerome Connor Trust to exhibit the sculptures for a period of ten years. The fitting out of the gallery and the exhibiting of the sculptures at the South Pole Inn, Annascaul as a permanent exhibition.