Hughes is educated at North Richmond Street CBS. He enters the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1878 and trains as a part-time student for ten years. In 1890 he wins a scholarship to the South Kensington School of Art in London, after which another scholarship takes him to Paris, France. He then studies further in Italy.
Hughes is appointed as teacher to the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1894 and in 1902 becomes Professor of Sculpture in the Royal Hibernian Academy School. His last residence in Dublin is at 28 Lennox Street, Portobello.
From 1903 Hughes lives in Italy and in France, dying in Nice in 1941.
Hughes’s influences are mainly from the Italian Renaissance and include:
- Man of Sorrow; Madonna and Child, both 1901, for St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea
- A dying Irish soldier overlooked by Erin, now in the garden of Dublin Castle Conference Centre
- Monument to Charles Kickham, in Tipperary
- W. E. Gladstone Memorial, intended for the Phoenix Park, but installed instead at Hawarden Castle in 1925
- Queen Victoria, unveiled by King Edward VII in 1904 outside Leinster House in Dublin, re-erected in Sydney, Australia in 1987.