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History of the Foley Surname in Ireland 

Frank and Elizabeth Anderson
and Descendants

David and Janet Anderson
and Descendants

Ancestors of Michael Foley Anderson

Ancestors of Michael H. Foley

John Foley (1806–1873)
and Descendants

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by Francis Dowling

The surname Foley is among the more common of Irish surnames. While it can be found in almost every county, its highest concentrations are in its native County Waterford and the neighbouring counties along the southern coastline, Cork and Kerry. The name has its origins in Gaelic Ireland where it derives from the Irish 'foghladha' meaning plunderer or robber.

In addition to 'Foley', the Anglicisation of this Gaelic name gave rise to other versions such as Fowloo and in a few cases Fowler. In Ulster, some Foleys may originally have been McSharry, the confusion arising due to the mistaken belief that Foley derives from 'searrach' meaning 'fool'. *

Griffith's Valuation, a comprehensive listing of those who rented land/property throughout Ireland in the 1850s, records a total of 2407 entries for occupiers named 'Foley'. Of these 581 were found in County Cork and 444 entries in the neighbouring county Kerry. Waterford had a total of 330 and Wexford recorded 173 entries. The western counties had less than one hundred each while there are very few entries for the northern counties. This high concentration of the name in the counties of the southern coast accurately indicates the origins of the family in County Waterford. The movement into the neighbouring counties of Cork and Kerry was probably prompted by the Anglo-Norman invasion of the twelfth century. Nowadays the name continues to be concentrated in these counties.


Courtesy of Joe Hall



*"Searrach," or "tsearrach," is actually the Irish for "foal," which is thought to have been a nickname for a fast person. This gave rise to the surname Sharry, and later McSharry, according to our correspondent Evan McSharry of Grange, County Sligo.



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