The surname Foley comes from the Irish “Ó Foghladha” (phonetically pronounced “Oh-Fu-la-ha”). It is derived from the Irish “Foghlaidhe” – which translates into plunderer or pirate – a fearsome reputation indeed! The written record of “Foley” was the Archbishop of Cashel – Maoliosa O’Foley – from 1131.
Foley is name that you will find sprinkled over many parts of Munster – Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Limerick. In fact it can also be found in other parts of the country too – like county Leitrim where it is typically anglicised as “Fowley“. However, it is a “Déisi Mumham” name from around present day County Waterford.
The first generation we’ve found was Michael James Foley, born 1800 in Waterford, Ireland. He married Elizabeth Martin and they had eight children; one of whom was Michael John Foley, born 15 Feb. 1845. They immigrated to America in 1848. Michael John married Margaret Sullivan, daughter of Peter Sullivan and Margaret Madden on 15 September, 1858. Margaret was born 9 February 1847 in White Plains, New York. Michael John and Margaret had nine children, one of whom was my paternal grandfather, Michael Joseph Foley (Grandpa Jay to us J). Grandpa Jay and Grandma Irene had seven children, of whom my father, Louis Frank (or maybe Franklin…but he always hated “Louis” and changed his name to “Frank L. Foley” when he joined the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II) was the eldest and was known as “Duke” to his siblings and classmates…because he really, really hated the name “Louis”.
I remember reading “Louis F. Foley” from a boxing trophy he won as I was speaking to a childhood chum on the telephone one day when I was in elementary school, and wondering who in the world “Louis F. Foley” was and how he was related to me. My Dad, overhearing my conversation, came rushing into the room with fury written all over his face, grabbed the telephone from my hand and slammed it down. I couldn’t imagine what I’d done wrong until my mother explained that the trophy belonged to my father and, while he was proud of winning it, he hated that it was labeled with his given name. I never saw said trophy again!
As for a story about one of my ancestors, my cousin (the family genealogist) found this article in a Big Bend, Wisconsin newspaper:
Big Bend. Mr. Michael Foley of this place met with a severe accident while loading a double barrel shot gun one day week before last. It seems that a very small child was playing with a broom nearby when it stumbled and fell, the broom striking the lock of the gun in such a manner as to discharge it instantly, blowing off the thumb and two fingers of Mr. Foley’s right hand. Some of the shot entered his head near the eye which, however, it is hoped will not prove very serious. The wounds were dressed by Dr. Irving Sweat, of this place.
I’m guessing that the “very small child” in question was my Grandpa Jay (based only on the kind of shenanigans my own Father often pulled) J
Since there are approximately 1 gazillion “Foley”s from County Waterford…and most of the males are named Michael J. to boot … any additional information you can gather would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks, and I love your FaceBook page and your newsletter!
And thank you for sharing Mary! Now – how about some more Foleys out there adding to Mary’s story! What else do you know about the surname Foley and Your family?
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