The Foley Family

Sculptor John Henry Foley (1818-1874)

By Catherine Davis, Editorial Assistant
February / March 2012

The surname Foley is found in greatest concentration in counties Cork, Kerry, and Waterford. It is generally understood to be an Anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Foghladha, which translates loosely to “pirate,” or “marauder,” possibly implying distant Viking roots. It may also be an Anglicized version of the Northern Irish name Mac Searraigh, chosen for its phonetic approximation to the English word “foal.”

The Foley name is perhaps most closely associated with the arts. John Henry “J.H.” Foley (1818 -1874) was an influential Irish sculptor. Born to a Dublin family of modest means, he established himself as a prodigy early on, beginning his studies at the Royal Dublin Society’s art school when he was only 13. He is best known for his statues of Daniel O’Connell in Dublin, Prince Albert in London, and Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in Richmond, Virginia. The street he grew up on in Dublin, Montgomery Street, has since been renamed Foley Street, in his honor.

Born in the Yorkville neighborhood of New York City, Jack Foley (1891-1967) – featured in this issue – developed many of the sound effect techniques still employed in filmmaking today. He started out working for Universal Studios during the silent movie era, and began creating what is now known as “foley art” in 1927.

Clyde Julian “Red” Foley (1910-1968) was one of the most popular country singers in post-World War II America. Born in Blue Lick, Kentucky, Red began playing the guitar and the harmonica as a child. In 1945, he was the first major performer to record in Nashville. He was a regular on NBC’s “Grand Ole Opry” program. Some of his most popular songs were “Smoke on the Water” and “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy.”

Ellen Foley (b. 1951) is an American singer and actress, best known for her collaborations with singer Meat Loaf. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, she first gained notoriety after recording the duet “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with Meat Loaf on his 1977 album Bat Out of Hell. Ellen is also remembered for her role as Public Defender Billie Young on the sitcom Night Court. She has had success on the stage as well, appearing in a revival of Hair, and originating the role of The Witch in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, before the part was taken over by Bernadette Peters when the show came to New York.

Actor Scott Kellerman Foley (b. 1972) was born in Kansas City, though he moved all over the world as a child because of his father’s work. His family eventually settled in St. Louis, where Scott became involved with community and regional theatre. He is best known for his roles as Noel on the television show Felicity, and as the murderous director in Wes Craven’s film Scream 3.

Straddling the line between entertainment and athletics is semi-retired professional wrestler, author, comedian and actor Michael Francis “Mick” Foley (b. 1965). He was born in Bloomington, Indiana, though his family eventually moved to Setauket, New York. It was there that he attended high school, joining the wrestling team along with future comic actor Kevin James.

Comedy fans may associate the Foley name with Saturday Night Live character Matt Foley, the bumbling motivational speaker who describes his misfortunes (he lives in a van down by the river, among other hardships) to scare delinquent teens into behaving responsibly. Created by Chris Farley, the character is actually named after Farley’s college friend and former rugby teammate Matt Foley (b.1962) The real Matt Foley went on to become a Catholic priest in Chicago, and is currently serving in Afghanistan as an Army chaplain.

Also a member of the Church, Fr. Theodore Foley, C.P. (1913-1974) was a Pittsburgh priest who is a candidate for sainthood. Throughout his life, he was in high demand for Confession, serving at three Catholic hospitals, and eventually acting as confessor to Vatican officials. Though he had never before left the country, and spoke no Italian, he readily accepted his election to a Passionist post in Rome, saying “If I could drive the snowy hills of a Pittsburgh winter in a stick shift Ford, I can do something else.”

In politics, Thomas Stephen Foley (b. 1929) was the 57th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1989 to 1995. Born in Spokane, he represented Washington’s 5th congressional district for 30 years as a Democratic member from 1965 to 1995. He served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2001.

68 Responses to “Roots:
The Foley Family”

  1. Kathleen Donohoe Collins says:

    An extraordinary Foley who deserves a mention here is Firefighter Tom Foley, who died in the line of duty on September 11, 2001

    • Joe foley says:

      Tom was quite the guy. Rodeos and firefighting you cant go wrong. Thanks for mentioning him

  2. Terence Alan Patrick Dominic Foley says:

    I am proud beyond measure to share my name with a selfless hero, who ran into the fire when all others were running out.


  3. Edgar Jepson says:

    My great, great , great grandfather , George Jepson , married a Margaret Foley from Waterford Ireland , they settled. Bennington , Vt

    • Paul Browne says:


      I have many Waterford based Foleys in my tree. What date was she born etc?

      • Edgar W. Jepson Jr. says:

        1845 , married , there son Leon Jepson was my grandfather!

      • pat foley says:

        A foley from waterford here trying to start tracing family tree

        • Anthony Michael Foley says:

          My Grandfather was from Dungarvan, Waterford County. He migrated to New York around 1912 permanently. Prior to that date, he traveled back and forth for about 10 years. His name was Michael Foley.

          • mary b barr (m- foley) says:

            My mothers family is from Dungarvan Ireland, I still have a cousin that lives there. The original family farm ‘foley farm’ now called the parks farm as the last foley was a female

  4. Edgar w. Jepson JR. says:

    My daughter & I going to Ireland in May , we’ll be spending two days in Waterford, can’t wait. 10 day tour.

  5. Emma Foley says:

    Hello to my fellow Foleys! 🙂

  6. Jasper McKay says:

    Stumbled upon this in tandem with retrieval of ancestry.com DNA results…Apparently I am more Scotch/ Irish even than I thought! Looking for any possible links to Walter Foley and his sons Dennis/ Patrick Foley, who have connections to the American South and also Washington State. It’s worth a shot…

  7. Weslynn Foley Davis says:

    I am the daughter of Louis Robert Foley who lives in Pasadena, TX. I was in contact with my cousin Michael Hermann who told me of Foley reunions in Indiana. Usually near Preston IN which is in the Vincennes area. I am trying to connect to my family. Any help would be really appreciated. There is also supposed to be a Foley book showing our ancestry. I am wanting to either buy one or get a copy.

    • Ann says:

      The branch of Foley that I am told has a big presence in Paris Illinois where at one time they were carriage builders and ended up now having a lumber yard there. My great grandfather had some type of disagreement with his family and they moved to Cleveland Ohio. Maybe some of them moved to Indiana?

      • stacy says:

        hi there! My grandfather was fredrick foley, son of charles foley and John A. Foley, of cork county Ireland.

        In the states, Fred lived in indiana

    • Heather Foley says:

      Hey I am a Foley daughter out of San Angelo tx.

  8. Liam Foley says:

    My father’s family and my mother’s family (Monahan) their ancestors hail from Waterford Ireland. My grandfather and great-grandfather came from large families so I’m sure I have many relatives scattered around the world.

    • pat foley says:

      hi, i am from ardmore in waterford trying to trace family tree to the states.

      • Ellen Foley says:

        My grandfather Lee Foley said that our family was from Waterford. We have no evidence of this. Michael Foley who emigrated to Canada in 1912 and then US in about 1835 said on his emigration papers that he was from Catelyons. I don’t know if that is any help. They were famine people.

  9. Margaret Foley says:

    My great grandparents came from Dungarvan. Richard and Catherine Foley. My grandfather was born there before they left for America – John Matthew Foley.

    • PAUL Browne says:


      All my Foleys are from the Dungarvan area


      • Timothy Foley says:

        Hi Paul Browne,

        My great grand parents, Patrick Foley and Mary O’Leary Foley are from Castlemaine, County Kerry. They moved to Binghamton, New York sometime in the early 1880s. My grandfather , Jeremiah Foley, was their second born child.
        I also have the name Browne in my family, on my mother’s side. My grandmother , Martha Browne , was born in County Offaly in 1893. Her parents were Patrick Browne and Maria Guinan Browne. My grandmother came to Binghamton, NY in 1909. She married my grandfather , William Maher, in 1918.
        Timothy Foley
        Binghamton, NY

        • Ellen Foley says:


          My great-grandfather, William H Foley, was born in Binghamton about 1842 and I have always been curious why his parents went there. HIs father, Also William, said he was from County Kerry Ireland. My Foleys apparently were in Binghamton NY 40 years before yours. Interesting. Perhaps it was a waystation for Irish. Best, Ellen Foley

          • Timothy Foley says:

            Hi Ellen,

            There is a large Irish population in the Binghamton, NY area. I am not sure why my Foley family came here. There are a number of Foley families in the area. I’m not aware of any William Foleys in my family. Do you have any specifics on where your family lived in Binghamton?

      • Anthony Michael Foley says:

        Mine as well Paul

        • Ellen Foley says:

          All I have is the statement in Wisconsin historical documents that William H, b. 1842 was born in Binghamton, Broome, NY to William Foley b. 1812 and Marcella McCormick Foley b. 1822. We believe William and Marcella were born in Ireland. William b. 1812 put Kerry on his tombstone as his place of birth. They were in Wisconsin by 1845 when their second son, Michael, was born. The sons Michael and William were well-known leaders in central Wisconsin and in the early 1900s, the family tired of farming with the other children taking jobs on the railroad moved to Milwaukee, which was booming at the time. We have some hint that they were originally from Listowel but there are Foleys everywhere in Ireland. I got a genetic match from a family in the Listowel area. The lore is the “boys” were marched up the hill after a skirmish with the English to starve to death. The English did not realize the area to which they were bannish was the lake country and they survived even thrived by eating the ample fish in the lakes. Clearly, they were poor people who either came with the 1825 Petersburough Expedition in Canada like many of my other relatives who later emigrated to NY for work near the Erie Canal and then to Wisconsin where farmland was plentiful, although it looked like an impenetrable forest when they got here. I am fifth generation in Wisconsin. There are a lot of us here because of the large families. Many of us are in professions tied to community service, which appears to be a family value handed down from the Irish.

          • Ellen Foley says:

            PS Genetically, I am 100 percent Irish, the last of that kind in my family.

  10. Michelle Foley says:

    Hello to my fellow Foleys. My great grandparents from both sides were from Ireland. My husband and I leave for Ireland Saturday and will be traveling to Waterford/Cork area. Ancestry states I am 58% Irish. They actually pinpoint the area of origin around Galway. We also plan to visit that area.

  11. Melissa Biesel says:

    Looking to see if anyone has info on some of my Foley ancestors?

    Maternal Grandmother Marilyn Foley
    Her Father Wilfred Joseph Foley (Great Grandfather)
    His Father Jean Baptiste (John Morris) Foley (2x Great Grandfather)
    His Father Louis Martin Poulin Foley (3x Great Grandfather)
    His Father Louis Foley (4x Great Grandfather)

  12. William J. Foley says:

    I discovered several generations of Foleys on an island in Newfoundland
    called Fogo. A book titled “Of Fish and Family” by John Carrick Greene provides a fascinating account of the Irish families who fished the waters off Fogo and settled their in the late 1700’s. Many of the families in the village of Tilting on Fogo Island are Foleys.

  13. Sarah Marie Honer says:

    I saw mentioned Foley’s in Washington? I grew up there. My parents (Foley) have extensive relatives there. Most closely associated with the old apostolic Lutheran church. (Slang term in battleground Washington is “bunheads” which we do NOT find offensive). Prior to my great great grandfather’s (Jim Foley) introduction to the church which he married a surname Sassy..he was a saloon keeper, had two sons and is presently buried near bel fouche a town nearly overlapped in Wyoming and south Dakota near the larger town of Rapid city..very little is known about the family’s journey to America or any siblings. I would be very grateful to hear from any cousins who might help trace my family back to Ireland

    • William J. Foley says:

      About a dozen years ago I discovered several generations of Foley’s dating back to the mid-1700’s on an island off of Newfoundland, Canada called Fogo. Their ancestors were cod fishermen from Waterford, Ireland.
      I’ve visited with my wife and son a few times. A fascinating and beautiful place with wonderfull people. The village inhabitated by Foleys is called Tilting. There is a book titled “Of Fish and Family” authored by John Greene who grew up in the village of Tilting. It gives a full account of the families from Tilting and a very detailed history of the Foley’s who settled there and fished the waters of the North Atlantic. It is claimed that the oldest Celtic cemetery in North America is in Tilting where many generations of Foley’s are buried. Google “Fogo Island, Canada” and you will be fascinated by the beauty of the island and hardiness and resilience of the people. And who knows, you might even find some family history.

  14. Rick Foley says:

    I am looking for information about James Henry Foley.
    Born? Died 1933? Married to Mary Zona Knott.
    He would be my Grandfather. Had sister Annie in Massachusetts.

  15. Timothy Foley says:

    Hi Paul Browne,

    My paternal great grandparents , Patrick Foley and Mary O’Leary Foley are from Castlemaine , County Kerry. They moved to Binghamton, NY in the early 1880s. My paternal grandfather, Jeremiah Foley ( 1888-1973 ) was their second born child.
    I also have the name Browne in my family. My maternal grandmother was Martha Browne. She was born in 1893 in County Offaly. She came to Binghamton, NY in 1909. She married my grandfather, William Maher in 1918. My great grandparents names were Patrick Browne and Maria Guinan Browne. Do you have any connection to County Offaly?

  16. Dana Michael Foley says:

    My late farther Richard Laird Foley is originality from Logan West Virginia. He moved our family to Titusville Florida. My mother and father are now rest among the angles in West Virginia.

  17. Kevin Foley says:

    What a great Irish last name we share. I love the meaning also..(Pirate, Plunderer, Viking Roots) Gotta Love it! Take care Fam Foleys!

    • GEORGE SANBORN says:

      The Irish word foghlai, pronounced, apparently much like Foley, means “robber,” so I have read.

  18. Kathleen Terese Langdon says:

    My great-great grandmother on my mother’s side was Ellen Foley b 19 Jul 1850 in Canada who married William Hall in 1872 and died in MN in 1937.
    Her father was John Foley from Castlelyons, County Cork and her mother was Johanna O’Brien.
    She was the sister of the famous Foley brothers who built railway lines.
    I am specifically looking for photos of Ellen specifically or of her husband, William Hall. If anyone could help I would be eternally grateful!
    Foley, MN is where my grandparents come from…named after the famous Foleys!

    • Debbie Knight says:

      Kathleen, would love to talk with you! We just moved to Foley, MN, from a nearby town. We were just told we bought a home built by one of the original Foley brothers who supplied lumber for railroad ties, and actually made the deal with James J. Hill to bring the railroad through Foley and further west of here. Such interesting information I’ve learned in the last couple weeks, I look forward to being able to validate it. I will love to know any information you may have and any pictures of your relatives would be extremely appreciated.

    • Debbie says:

      Kathleen, I just wrote you kind of a long message, which seemed it to disappear. I will keep an eye out here and see how this one posts and rewrite you if it looks like my last one was lost. Thank you, Debbie Knight

    • Deborah Knight says:

      Hello Kathleen Terese Langdon, did you receive the above messages I wrote? I would love to be in touch with you. Kitty-corner from the Victorian home we bought in Foley, MN is the “Hall House” – my other neighbor knows some info about that and the original owners, the Halls.
      Do you live in Foley, MN or near here?

    • Ellen Foley says:

      Hi, Kathleen, My Foleys also came from Casetlyons on the Robinson Expedition, an evacuation of 2,000 Irish from southwest Ireland in 1825.

      They Left Canada about 1840 and moved to Wisconsin near the city of Milwaukee.

      William Foley, b1812 in Catelyons had a brother named John who also came on the voyage. I don’t have much more information on John. You might try the many websites about the Robinson Expedition. Just about every generation had an Ellen or two. The right one is hard to find. Good luck.

      • Michelle Kathleen Foley says:

        That is my bloodline! Great Great Grandpa is from Wisconsin, as is my Grandpa, my Dad, and myself + a ton of cousins! We are all in Milwaukee and the surrounding suburbs. Kathleen is not only my middle name, but my Aunt’s and my cousin Maureen’s. I also kept it going by giving my oldest daughter the name Kellie Kathleen. 😉 🙂

  19. Debbie says:

    Kathleen, I just wrote you kind of a long message, which seemed it to disappear. I will keep an eye out here and see how this one posts and rewrite you if it looks like my last one was lost. Thank you, Debbie Knight

  20. John Foley says:

    Our branch of the Foley family left Cork 1878 for Oamaru, New Zealand. Two brothers went to Chicago at the same time – we are not sure why they headed in different directions. For us its a mystery what happened to them and the original John Foley who arrived in NZ was always sorry to have lost contact. There is a suggestion of a connection to a boxing gym? A bit of a long shot, but was hoping someone might be able to help! Thanks John Foley (NZ).

    • Tracy-lea Connor says:

      My mother’s maiden name is Foley. I am just reading the true story of the Catalpa Rescue involving the Finians. The book is bu Australian Peter FitzSimons and may very well enlighten you as to how and why many Irish moved. One of the Finians was a William Foley born 1837 in Tipperary who ended up in the states but he seems to have passed without having children. I have two William Foleys my great grandfather and my great uncle. Problem is most Foley families named a child William so I have a task ahead of me. The book is the most exciting little known story that involves the UK IRE US and here in my home town of Rockingham south of the Fremantle goal where the Finians escaped from via American Whaler ship.

  21. Terrance Strater says:

    Looking for information on my Irish ancestors. Who came from Cahersiveen. I am seeking Information on Morris or (Maurice) Foley born about 1835, Denis Foley born 1831 and sister Johanna these 3 all went to America in the 1850’s. a brother John Foley and sister Cate remained in town. John Foley had 3 children that survived childhood Johanna born1854 Edward born1855 and John 1861. John Foley’s second wife was a Mary Sullivan of upper Carn. Only a limited amount of information on church records (Baptismal) are available online. Is there someone I can make contact with who can help me

  22. Mark foley says:

    Hi Foley’s
    My name is mark and I live in Dublin Ireland. My granddads name was Dominic Foley, but he had a brother that I don’t know much about. They were born and breed in Cork, youghal to be exact. They owned the old cinema that used to be there but was pulled down in the 5/60s. It’s my grandads brother I’m looking to find out about if anyone has any info.
    Thanks Foley’s

  23. GEORGE SANBORN says:

    Thomas Quin and Honora Foulue of Killarney, County Kerry, had a daughter Margaret Quin baptised on 22 March 1795, apparently, at Killarney R.C. church. Sponsors were Dermot Fowlue and Elizabeth Lynch.
    Who were the other children of Thomas and Honora? Has anyone found the marriage record of Thomas and Honora?

  24. Dave Hanes says:

    I am looking for any information re Caeciliae Foley. She was married to Andreae Foley and they had a daughter Johanna (married name O’Meara) in 1787. Thanks in advance.

  25. Tom Foley says:

    Hello, teenager Foley here. Family is from Rinn/Dungarvan in waterford Ireland. My Greatgranddad was Dan Foley who ran for election as a labour candidate in the thirties. His son, Thomas Foley was a big name in the city and my dad Philip Foley is a respectable man aswell. Labour family aswell as Gealgeoirs. Be nice to know anyone

  26. MICHAEL FOLEY says:


  27. MICHAEL FOLEY says:


  28. Amy Burns says:

    Doing my husbands family and we have a long line of Foleys. I’m looking for Timothy Joseph Foley (born 12 April 1850 Castlebar Street, Westport, Mayo, Ireland) who married Catherine Neary in 1872 Kilmoremoy, Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland. Timothy was born 1850 they haad a son named Patrick Joseph Foley I (born 1880 who married Sarah Gavin) who was born on Castlebar street, Mayo, Ireland. Patricks son Patrick Joseph Foley II and a few others came to America and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Gary Comer says:

      Hi Amy,

      This seems to be the same lineage as mine. My Great 2nd Great Grandfather was Timothy Joseph Foley!

  29. Kathy foley says:

    Hi I’m looking for any info on my grandpa Edward foley he was in WW2 he was staton in Germany I know nothing about him my dad doesn’t remember much his wife is Marget Mildred foley (blinn) my nana is from Canada. And my grandpa is from Boston mass and that is all I know if anyone can help me or knows anything please contact me via e mail if you find anything. I this no my grandpa fixed tanks in the war I’m not sure

  30. meg carver says:

    hi, all my mums side of the family are foley’s as my mum is a foley and theyre alll rooted in music and ireland and reading this gave me so many emotions i cant even say why. even my dads side with (carver) were based in cork which didnt surprise me and my great grandma carver was fully irish and sadly she passed away. really been drawn to ireland but never visited, and now as im getting older and i can travel on my own i was wondering if anyone could help me out with the best place i should visit given my family name/history with ireland?

  31. My FOLEY goes back to John, 1521, born, Dudley Worcestershire. Wife Catherine Hipkiss, marriage 19 August 1540. Rowley-Regis, Staffordshire. To son Richard (nailer of Dudley FOLEY born 1547 and wife Margaret Bennett to Richard (ironmaster and mayor of Dudley) FOLEY born 1580 and wife Alice Brindley to Anglican Archbishop of Down, Ireland Samuel (Armiger) FOLEY, born about 1620 and wife Elizabeth Richards. To Anglican Vicar and Rector Solomon FOLEY circa 1655 born Clonmill, Tipperary, Ireland, burial 26 February 1738 kilbrogan, Cork, Ireland. Wife Margaret, unknown last. To daughter Margaret FOLEY born circa 1690 who married James Jackson, the Provost of Bandon, Cork, Ireland. My line is son William Jackson, born 1713, Anglican Vicar and Rector, Holy Trinity, Cork, Ireland.

    • Grace says:

      Wow – You’ve traced back so far! Did you hire a professional genealogist? So far, I have found my family back to the mid-1800s in Kilbrean, County Kerry. I had to take a break with my search but will continue soon.

  32. Michelle Kathleen Foley says:

    This is so exciting to read! I am the granddaughter of John “Jack” Foley (Wisconsin), daughter to Patrick Dennis Foley (Milwaukee, WI). We have quite a large clan in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin. My Grandpa John “Jack” Foley served in the Navy and was known throughout the area for winning the Golden Gloves. Incredible boxer; we have a shoebox of newspaper articles about him. I am so intrigued hearing about other famous Foley’s 😉

  33. NOEL HAUGHEY says:


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