Farrell, Sir Thomas (1827–1900), sculptor, was born in Dublin, third of six sons of Terence Farrell (qv), sculptor, of Dublin, and Maria Farrell (née Ruxton). He received his earliest training as a sculptor in his father's workshop on Lower Mecklenburg St. (latterly Railway St.), on the north side of the city. In 1842 he entered the modelling school of the Royal Dublin Society, where he was awarded the prize for ‘Original design in clay’ the following year. He was awarded premiums by the Royal Irish Art Union in 1844 and 1846.
As a student Farrell became familiar with the neoclassical sculpture of John Flaxman (1755–1826) and fellow Irishman John Hogan (qv), who at that time was resident in Rome. He established himself in the early 1850s with the commission for a monument to commemorate the late catholic archbishop Daniel Murray (qv) (St Mary's pro-cathedral, Dublin). This work shows the strong influence of Hogan's neoclassical style on Farrell at this stage of his career. Indeed, he had won this commission in the face of competition from Hogan, who had recently returned to live in Ireland. In 1853, as part of his preparation for this monument, Farrell had the opportunity to travel to Italy, which allowed him to study the work of Italian sculptors such as Antonio Canova (1757–1822) at first hand.
Though Farrell's clientele was broadly based, this period, in the aftermath of emancipation, saw the emergence of a new source of patronage, that of the catholic community. Many of his best-known works commemorate prominent members of the catholic hierarchy or those associated with the nationalist political cause. His statue of William Smith O'Brien (qv) (O'Connell St., Dublin) was unveiled in 1870 to some controversy because of O'Brien's role in the attempted insurrection of 1848. His monument to members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, completed in 1886, was not erected in its intended site in Glasnevin cemetery until 1933, because of opposition to its political significance. Despite these controversies Farrell seems to have been quite apolitical. His monument to Cardinal Paul Cullen (qv) (1882; St Mary's pro-cathedral, Dublin) commemorates the first Irish prelate to become a cardinal, with the figure of Cullen standing above a drum where relief sculptures show his founding of various religious institutions. This approach to composition may be related to Italian monumental sculpture of the seventeenth century and so can be seen as a clear statement of catholic taste. This contrasts with his approach to the funerary monument (1865; St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin) to Richard Whately (qv), protestant archbishop of Dublin, where the use of the recumbent figure, reminiscent of medieval tomb effigies, takes account of the concern expressed in England at the time for such monuments to convey a sense of dignity and simple piety.
As he emerged as the leading sculptor based in Ireland in the latter half of the nineteenth century, his style was characterised by an integration of his early neoclassicism and contemporary Victorian taste for realistic detail. Public monuments, such as those to William Dargan (qv) (1863; NGI), Arthur Edward Guinness, Lord Ardilaun (qv) (1891; St Stephen's Green, Dublin), and Sir John Gray (qv) (1879; O'Connell St., Dublin), each commemorate the altruism of the sitters. He also executed a panel for the Wellington memorial (1861; Phoenix Park, Dublin), illustrating the battle of Waterloo. Subsequently Farrell entertained hopes of gaining patronage in London through the lord lieutenant, the 7th earl of Carlisle (qv). His hopes, however, were not realised. In 1864 he entered the competition to design the O'Connell monument (O'Connell St., Dublin). He had already emerged as the most popular candidate in the press, not least for the fact that he was resident in Ireland. Ultimately, however, the commission was awarded to John Henry Foley (qv) who, though born in Dublin, had made his career as a sculptor in London, where he achieved great prominence.
Throughout his career Farrell remained actively involved in the RHA. He was elected directly as a full member in 1860 rather than undergoing an initial phase of associate membership. He exhibited almost annually with the academy until his death. He held a number of posts, including professor of sculpture and treasurer, before being elected president (1893); he holds the distinction of being the first sculptor to be so honoured. As PRHA he was concerned with issues such as the securing of government funds for art education and the role of the academy in publicly promoting the arts in Ireland. He can be associated with the more conservative wing of the institution, which opposed the promotion of more progressive artistic trends from abroad in the 1890s. His achievements were recognised with a knighthood in May 1894.
He died 2 July 1900 at his home, Redesdale House, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin. He was a shy, retiring man, and his death was not announced to the public for three days, in keeping with his wishes to avoid any sort of elaborate display on his behalf. Intensely private, he never married and lived a life immersed in his work. Contemporary accounts describe him as constantly dissatisfied with his work despite consistent public approval for it.