A Letter from Ireland:

The Irish Surname Foley


Irish Surname FoleyMary Foley Hurst was on to us wondering about the origins and meaning of the Irish surname Foley. And you can read Mary’s question and story at the end of this post.

Origin of the Irish Surname Foley.

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.

Home Counties of Foley.

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.

Mary Foley Hurst’s Story.

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?


  • denise Selstad says:

    Do you happen to know if any of your relatives happened to end up in CT by chance? I’m curious because my grandmother Dorothy’s maiden name was Foley, but no one knows much more than that. Just that she was raised by her cousin or her aunt.

  • Catherine Grapes says:

    my great grandmother was Margaret Foley born in the Co of Limrick before coming to the US – her Father James Foley born in 1841 in the Ireland and died in 1883 in Ireland

  • Christopher Cole says:

    My maternal Grandmother ( Corrine [nee:Kennedy] Albright) mother’s maiden name was Mary Foley. My great-grandmother Mary F, Foley was born in 1873 ~ to Phillip H. Foley (1836 – 1922 / born in Wexford, Ireland – died at Norton, Kansas: Emigrated to the U.S. in 1863) and Anna [Brown] Foley. She born in Illinois, moved to the Nebraska/ and {Norton} Kansas borderlands, and married George Kennedy in Illinois, living later in rural South Wisconsin and Winslow, Illinois. She later moved to Iowa, and at the end of her life lived with one of her daughters in Nevada. She died in 1966 and is buried in Clarksville, Iowa. Living from 1873 to 1966, Mary saw the world change in many ways. I am honored to have her Irish blood in my veins, and her hard working ethic in my heritage. I only wish that I could have known her – as she died when I was 2.

  • D. Rathermel says:

    My great-grandmother, Josephine, was Michael and Margaret’s daughter. She married Daniel Connors and settled in Iowa. They had 4 children, Irene, James (My grandfather), Don and Ed. They are all buried in Ft. Dodge, IA.
    My mother and I have been to Franklin to Michael and Margaret’s gravesite and think we found Michael and Elizabeth’s graves and met cousins by chance in Big Bend cemetery!

  • Edgar says:

    My great grandma was Margaret Foley , married to George Jepson , they lived in Vermont , Margaret was from Waterford Ireland. My name is Edgar Jepson Live in Greenfield , MA Skipjep@gmail.com

  • Skip Jepson says:

    My great grandmother, Margaret Foley born Waterford Ireland 1846 abt. Marriage Oct 12, 1876 to George Jepson in Bennington Vermont . My grandfather Leon Jepson, my father Edgar William Jepson , me Edgar William Jepson Jr. living in Greenfield Massachusetts, I have a daughter, Laura Anne Jepson . Hope to hear from you , going Ireland in May to Waterford. Laura & I .

  • Patricia Nelson says:

    I am a Foley by birth. I really wish I could give a bit more information than that but alas, all that I can ask have passed.

    Recently I did a genetic test and it came back as follows:
    42.4% Scandinavian
    34.1% English
    12.0% Iberian (this is from my mother’s side being Germanic tribes)
    11.5% Eastern European (again, believed this is from Germanic tribe migration)

    So…how does one have a name that is clearly established in Ireland and not have any Irish blood? Unless, I am from the Viking side and these genetics won?


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