He was the eldest son of John Foster, MP for Dunleer, and his wife Elizabeth Fortescue, youngest daughter of William Fortescue of Neuragh, who was a member of the Fortescue family which later held the title Earl of Clermont. The Fosters had come to Ireland from Cumberland in the previous century, and had gradually acquired lands and political influence in Louth. He was Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer 1766-1777. Prior to appointment to the Bench he represented the family constituency of Dunleer in the Irish House of Commons from 1738 to 1761 and subsequently Louth from 1761 to 1767.
He attended the school in Dublin run by Thomas Sheridan, the friend of Jonathan Swift and grandfather of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He matriculated from the University of Dublin in 1722 and took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1726. He entered Middle Temple in 1726 and was called to the Irish Bar in 1732. He became King's Counsel in 1760 and acted as counsel to the Board of Revenue; unlike many of his judicial colleagues he never held office as a Law Officer or as a Serjeant-at-law.
As a member of Parliament he worked tirelessly to promote the interests of the manufacturers of Irish linen ; there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his belief in this cause (which fits well with his known interest in the improvement of agriculture), although Elrington Ball rather cynically notes that his support for the linen manufacturers brought him rich rewards, including a gold box. As an orator (which was a much-prized skill among the Irish public figures of his time) he was badly thought of, being described as "slow, sleepy and charmless".
Family and personal life
He married firstly Elizabeth Burgh, daughter of William Burgh in 1736; she died in 1744. They had three children:
- John Foster, 1st Baron Oriel, the last Speaker of the Irish House of Commons.
- William Foster, successively Bishop of Cork and Ross, Bishop of Kilmore and Bishop of Clogher.
- Margaret Foster who married Henry Maxwell, successively Dean of Kilmore, Bishop of Dromore and Bishop of Meath.
He built an impressive country seat, Collon House, which was much added to by his son and heir, John, Lord Oriel. Anthony had a keen interest in agricultural development, and his improvements at Collon were described as being "of a magnitude never before attempted". Collon became famous for its great variety of trees and shrubs and its cider orchard.
Foster was not regarded as the most outstanding lawyer on the Irish Bench in his lifetime, but it has been argued that he was its most gifted member overall, with his various interests in law, politics, trade and agriculture. If he was quickly forgotten, this may be because his reputation was eclipsed by that of his even more gifted son, John.
- Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.2 p.213
- Ball p.214
- Ball p.161
- Burke's Peerage, see Massereene and Ferrard
|Parliament of Ireland|
|Member of Parliament for Dunleer
With: Thomas Tennison
William Henry Fortescue
|Member of Parliament for Louth
With: James Fortescue