Born in Liverpool, Dooley commenced employment as a welder at Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead and in 1945 was enlisted in the Irish Guards and became a piper in the regiment's band. During his 9 years of service, he served in Europe and the Middle East, deserting at one stage and joining the Palestine Liberation Army before being caught and spending a lengthy period in detention. Dooley took part in the traditional Changing of the Guard when serving at Chelsea barracks and eventually reached the rank of sergeant. After leaving the army, Dooley began work as a cleaner at Saint Martin's School of Art in London. He became a student there in 1953. Dooley had his first exhibition at the Gallery of the same name in 1962. Having decided he wanted to be a sculptor, he left London for Liverpool and set up a tiny studio. To support himself financially, he took a job with the police force which patrolled Liverpool's many parks. He later worked in the large Dunlop Rubber Factory at Speke. In 1956, he set up a studio in Slater St where he began to sculpt in earnest.
His medium was usually scrap metal or bronze. He sculpted mainly religious works including the Risen Christ in the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Redemption (a collaborative work with Ann McTavish) in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral The Resurrection of Christ at Princes Park Methodist Church in Toxteth and a Madonna and Child at St Faith's Church in Crosby. He also produced a tribute to The Beatles in Mathew Street, Liverpool, depicting The Madonna and The Beatles with the tribute "Four lads who shook the world". His studio in Liverpool was notoriously untidy, and is reportedly untouched since his death. Other notable works are the fifteen Stations of the Cross in St Mary's RC Church, Leyland, and a sculpture entitled 'Splitting the Atom' (depicting the creation of the atomic bomb) at Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire. One of his famous works Dachau is in Gallery Oldham. In honour of a famous union dispute he made "The Fisher Bendix Tree"which was composed in some part of old radiators.This was purchased by Oldham Art Gallery but was never displayed.Last seen rusting away in the yard of the gallery during the 1980s.
To commemorate the 1967 centenary of the execution of the Manchester Martyrs, the Manchester Connolly Association commissioned Dooley to produce a memorial sculpture to stand on the site of New Bailey prison in Salford, where the martyrs had been hanged. There was opposition to the proposal, and it seems that the sculpture was never made, let alone installed. Dooley did however produce a foot-high maquette which now forms part of the collection of the Working Class Movement Library in Manchester. The maquette suggests that the memorial was to consist of a granite base with three standing steel pillars with attached Celtic shields each bearing a martyr's name as well as some detail of the event's significance. The maquette was donated to the WCML in 2011 by the family of Jud Cooper who had been given the maquette by Dooley.
Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria, served as inspiration to Dooley who was commissioned in 1974 by the International Brigade Association of Scotland to create a monument commemorating the 2,100 British volunteers of the International Brigade, ordinary men and women who joined the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War in their fight against Franco's nationalist and fascist rebels. The monument's inscription is dedicated to the 534 volunteers who died in the conflict, 65 of them from Glasgow, which is where the monument is situated.
The statue was funded by money raised by Trade Unionists and Labour movement supporters. However, the £3000 raised was insufficient to cover the artist's plans for the statue to be cast in bronze. Instead, an armature was welded together from scrap iron and covered in fibreglass. The final version of the monument is a stylised female figure, representing Dolores Ibarruri, in a long dress, standing with legs apart and arms raised. On the plinth, Dooley carved Dolores' famous slogan – 'better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees'. The phrase was first used by the Mexican revolutionary leader, Emiliano Zapata, but Ibarruri gave it new meaning when she used it during the miners strike in Asturias, Spain, in 1934.
Over time, the B listed statue fell into extremely poor condition and this generated criticism from the public, elected officials and trades unionists. A restoration project was carried out between April and August 2010 and the monument was re-dedicated on 23 August 2010 by Leader of the Council, Bailie Gordon Matheson, and General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Grahame Smith, in the presence of Thomas Watters, 97, a surviving International Brigade veteran. Watters was a veteran of the Scottish Ambulance Unit, which worked at the front line on the battlefields of Spain to aid wounded fighters and volunteers from across the world.
- Lynette Cawthra (23 November 2015). "The Manchester Martyrs maquette". WCML. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
- "Manchester Martyrs Remembered". The Newsletter of the Working Class Movement Library (49). Winter 2015.
- Gary Nisbet. Arthur Dooley (1929–94). Works in Glasgow. Glasgow—City of Sculpture.
- International Brigade Memorial trust. "Roll of Honour". Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- British Listed Buildings. "Clyde Street, Statue of Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, Glasgow". Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- Petrie, Gordon. "Sculptor with something to say is suffering in silence". The Herald. p. 7. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- Glasgow City Council. "Restoration of La Pasionara". Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- http://www.arthurdooleyarchive.com (The official Website)
- Arthur Dooley's appearance on This Is Your Life