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By Peter Biggins
I was walking southward from Killavally on a paved but narrow farm road in an area known as “The Hillside,” dotted with cottages and lined with hedgerows. An Irish Sheepdog was doing what he was trained to do in a stone-walled green field on the downward slope of the hillside.
It was then that one of those discoveries happened that amateur genealogists like me dream about but rarely experience. While I was looking on the downward slope of the hillside, a woman standing in front of her house on the upward slope of the hillside asked “Can I help you?” Redirecting my attention, I looked up and told her I was from America looking for my Foy ancestors. The woman said, “But, this is the Foy farm right here."
The woman was Margaret Kerrigan. Her husband was the late Thomas Joseph Kerrigan. Tommy Joe was born here. His mother, Mary “Maisie” Foy, had married Thomas Kerrigan, Sr. The farm had belonged to Maisie's father Patrick Foy, who inherited it from his father John Foy, who in turn had inherited it from Thomas Foy.
I had happened upon the farm, where my great grandfather, John Foy, was born in 1848 in the townland of Derreennascooba.
The day before the Discovery, I had driven from Cootehill, County Cavan, in a small Opel Corsa rented in Dublin. I was staying at the Millhill House Bed and Breakfast run by Breege and Tom Scahill outside of Castlebar just south of the Westport Road.
After breakfast on the day of the Discovery, I stopped in Killavally and renewed acquaintance with Michael Walsh at his shop, which is a combination grocery, news agency, light hardware store, and Post Office. I had met Michael, a genial conversationalist, 18 months earlier on my first trip to Ireland. All I knew then was that my great great grandparents, Dominick and Anne Walsh Foy, were married in the townland of Kiltarsaghaun. At that time, he directed me to the townland and the home of Norah Kerrigan, whom he knew to be a Foy. “Go down the road, turn left at the Y, and go to the fifth house on the right.” This is a rural area, so there are no street numbers. As I was leaving, Michael gave me a copy of Killawalla: The Road to Our Hearts, a 160-page soft-cover book published in November 1999 to celebrate the millennium and the history of the area around Killawalla. I followed Michael's directions and met Norah and found that we had Foy ancestors with remarkably similar first names, including Dominick, but that was as far as we got.
At the beginning of this trip, I had found at the National Library of Ireland, on Kildare Street in Dublin that the children of my great great grandparents were born in the townland of Derreennascooba, two townlands farther down the road from Kiltarsaghaun. So after chatting with Michael Walsh, I went again to the home of Norah Kerrigan Brady in the townland of Kiltarsaghaun. I was hoping to talk to Norah about this new information, but no one was home. I was disapponted. Undaunted, I decided to park my car by the side of the road, enjoy the countryside, and at least walk around in the townland of Derreennascooba where I knew my ancestors to be from. That is when I chanced upon Margaret Kerrigan and found the Foy farm. In four years, I had gone from "somewhere in counties Mayo or Cork" to a real farm in the townland of Derreennascooba.
Saying goodbye to Margaret, I drove toward Castlebar to the home of Charles Kerrigan seven miles away in the townland of Killadeer, near Ballyheane. After asking directions at two farm houses, I finally arrived there. Charles and his family were having dinner, but welcomed me in. Charlie told me more about his Foy family history and I explained mine. I promised Charlie I would send him an analysis of what I know about our Foy ancestors.
At Christmas, I sent Charlie a letter that detailed our Foy ancestors. In the meantime, I concluded that my Dominick Foy and his John Foy were most likely brothers. Charlie then responded with a letter detailing his Foy ancestors in March 2008, concluding that "We think your Dominick and our John Foy were brothers."
Origin of the Name Foy
The surname Foy is found in north Connacht, which includes County Mayo. It is a variant of Fee, which is found in County Fermanagh, which is in Ulster. The name Foy/Fee comes from the ancient Irish word for raven and has been anglicized as Hunt. Rev. Peadar Livingstone, in his The Fermanagh Story says the Fees "were a Cenéal Eóghain family who settled in Derrybrusk. Here they were herenachs and often vicars."
An article by Rev. J. E. MacKenna in the Ulster Journal of Archeology, entitled "Derrybrusk, on Lough Erne" states that "the old church of Derrybrusk, which is approached by the least inviting of Fermanagh by-ways, stands not in the townland of Derrybrusk, but in the townland of Fiagh, between Derrybrusk and the shore of Lough Erne. Fiagh probably owes its name to Gilchreest O'Fiaich (anglicized Fee), a learned vicar of the place, who died A.D. 1482, after having maintained a house of general hospitality for upwards of half a century. The Annals of Ulster, compiled within a few miles of his habitat, tell us, A.D. 1482," Gilla Crist O'Fiaich, Vicar of Airach Brosca, died this year: to wit, an eminent cleric, and a man that kept a guest-house for a long time—for 40 years—bountifully. . . . Prior to the Inquisition held by Sir John Davies, the place had no other name than Aireach Brosca. Neither Davies nor any of his assistants knew Irish. They wrote down the names of places as they heard them pronounced by the residents. This is only one out of many instances in Fermanagh in which they turned Airech into Derry. The patron saint of Airech Brosca is Senach, who is spoken of as a smith or a worker in metal. The Martyrology of Donegal, 11 May, records, "Senach, the smith, son of Etchen of Airiud Brosca, on Loch Eirne."
The medieval Irish office of erenagh was responsible for receiving parish revenue from tithes and rents, building and maintaining church property, and overseeing the lands that generated parish income. The erenagh had the tonsure but took no other holy orders; he had a voice in the Chapter when they consulted about revenues, paid a yearly rent to the Bishop and a fine on the marriage of each daughter. The role usually passed down from generation to generation in certain families in each parish.
In 1975, James O'Fee of Knockmore Park, Bangor, County Down, received a letter about the name Ó Fiaich from Monsignor Tomás Séamus Ó Fiaich (1923-1990), president of Maynooth College. Monsignor Ó Fiaich had been Professor of Modern Irish History there from 1959 to 1974 and was President of the College from 1974 to 1977. In 1978 he became Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh and head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. In the letter about the name Ó Fiaich, Monsignor Ó Fiaich said:
"The name Ó Fiaich means, of course, the grandson or descendant of Fiach (the raven). Fiach was occasionally used as a forename, presumably first given to someone of a dark or swarthy appearance.
The Fees are descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, and his son Eoghan. Eoghan's descendants, known as the Cenél Eóghain, produced the Royal Houses of Ulster: the O'Neills of Tyrone, the O'Neills of the Fews, the O'Neill's of Clannabuidhe, the powerfull Maclochlainn's of Ulster, Clan Lamont, and Clan MacNeil of Barra. Eoghan travelled north from the kingdom of Connacht into the western and northern regions of the kingdom of Ulster (county Donegal). It was here in the 5th century that the Cenél Eóghain established their power base at Inishowen and their capital at Aileach. By the 11th century the Cenél Eóghain had moved their power base from Aileach to that near Tullahogue in modern day county Tyrone (named from Tir Eóghain, or Tir Owen).
Foys in Derreennascooba
The National Library of Ireland. Only a few days earlier, at the National Library of Ireland, on Kildare Street in Dublin, I was able to view 1840-1895 Burriscarra and Ballintubber parish records on microfilm. I learned that my great grandfather John Foy was born in the townland of Derreennascooba and that Norah Brady’s grandfather Patrick Foy was born in the same townland. The Burriscarra and Ballintubber parish records I found at the National Library of Ireland in September 2007 are as follows.
We do not know for sure, but it appears that the two fathers above, Dominick Foy and John Foy, are sons of Thomas Foy. The land records presented below show that Thomas Foy was the lessor of the farm in Derreennascooba until 1885, at which point John became the lessor.
As shown in Thomas and Mary Tracy Foy, we are aware of six Foy siblings:
There are several other potential siblings based on baptisms and marriages in Ballintober Parish.
History of the Foy Farm. Records dating back to 1833 show only one Foy farm in the area, and that was in this townland of Derreennascooba. In 1833, all of Derreennascooba was occupied by Thomas Hunt. According to The Surnames of Ireland by Edward MacLysaght, Hunt is an anglicized form of Foy. In 1857, the Foy farm in Derreennascooba was occupied by Thomas Foy in the Griffiths Primary Valuation of Ireland. The purpose of the survey, conducted under the direction of Richard Griffith, was to assess the amount of tax every head of household should contribute towards the support of the poor and destitute in their civil parish. In 1885, occupancy was passed from Thomas to John Foy. In 1918, occupancy was transferred from John Foy to Patrick Foy. In 1939, ownership of the farm was transfered to the Irish Land Commission under the Land Purchases Acts of 1938, and Patrick Foy purchased the farm. In 1970 the owner-occupier of the landholding was transfered to Thomas Kerrigan. The information on change of occupation or ownership from the Cancelled Books, was provided by Timeline Research in Sandymount, Dublin.
The Moores were originally an English Protestant settler family. John Moore turned Catholic when he married Jane Lynch Athy from one of the principal Catholic families in Galway. Jane helped their son John get started as a wine merchant in Alicante, Spain.
George Moore of Alicante (1729-1799) married Katherine de Kilkelly in 1765. Katherine was an Irish Catholic raised in Spain. George amassed a fortune in Alicante as a wine merchant. He also owned a fleet of ships. And, he was a manufacturer of iodine. George and Katherine had four sons beginning with John, born in 1767. In 1784 George sold his businesses in Alicante and moved to County Mayo. He acquired 12,330 acres of land around 1790, including the Foy farm. Moore Hall was built above the shore of Lough Carra from 1792 to 1796. He died in 1799.
John Moore (1767-1798) was the oldest son of George Moore. He died in 1799 in prison after an unsuccessful attempt to establish the Republic of Connaught with the help of France. John, with a considerable number of his family's tenants, perhaps including a Foy, joined General Jean Humbert and a force of 1,000 French soldiers that landed in Killala in August 1798. The British were defeated at the battle of Castlebar on August 27. John was proclaimed President of the Republic of Connaught on August 31, with Castlebar as the capital. On September 8, however, the insurgents surrendered to the British at Ballinamuck in County Longford. John was captured in Castlebar and held prisoner in a Waterford tavern. Despite the efforts of his father, he remained in prison and died in 1798.
The inscription over President Moore’s grave in Castlebar reads: "Ireland's first president and a descendant of St Thomas More . . . ." The ancestral link between John and St Thomas More is unproven.
George Moore (1770-1840), according to the rights of primogeniture, would have owned the Foy farm from 1799 until his death in 1840. He was the younger brother of John Moore and took ownership upon the deaths in 1799 of his grandfather George Moore and his older brother John.
George Henry Moore (1811-1870) owned the Foy farm from at least 1833 until his death in 1870. The 1833 Tithe Applotment shows him as the owner even though his father was still living.His agent was Malachy Tuohy who let it to tenants. In 1835, George Henry Moore, a Catholic, contributed substantially to a new church, St. Mary's, near Moore Hall in Carrownacon (also called Carnacon), which is part of the Parish of Burriscarra & Ballintubber, along with Ballintubber Abbey and St. Patrick's Church in Killawalla. It is said that no one died on the Moore estate during the famine and no evictions were ever recorded. In 1846, George Henry Moore ran a horse called Coranna in the Chester Gold Cup in England. When Coranna won the cup, he used much of his winnings to alleviate the suffering of the poor in the area. A portrait of Coranna hangs in St. Mary's Church in Carrownacon. In 1847, George Henry Moore brought 4,000 tons of maize from America to County mayo to alleviate the famine. George Henry Moore was a Member of Parliament from 1847 to 1857, representing County Mayo.
George Augustus Moore (1852-1933) was a novelist, short-story writer, poet, art critic, memoirist, and dramatist. He was the son of George Henry Moore and was probably the owner of the Foy farm from his father's death in 1870 to his own death in 1933.
Moore originally wanted to be a painter, and studied art in Paris during the 1870's. There, he befriended many of the leading French artists and writers of the day. As a naturalistic writer, he was among the first English-language authors to absorb the lessons of the French realists, and was particularly influenced by the works of Émile Zola. His writings influenced James Joyce, according to the literary critic and biographer Richard Ellmann, and, although Moore's work is sometimes seen as outside the mainstream of both Irish and British literature, he is as often regarded as the first great modern Irish novelist. See George Moore (novelist).
In February 1923 in the midst of the civil war Moore Hall was burned by anti-treaty republican forces. George's remark to a condoling friend on the burning of Moore Hall was that Ireland was not a gentleman's country. George received £7,000 as compensation for the burning of Moore Hall.
In 1939, six years after the death of George Augustus Moore, Patrick Foy became owner of the Foy farm.
1901 Irish Census. The National Archives of Ireland provides the 1901 Census online. It shows the Foy family in Derreennascooba, the Kerrigan family in Bohaun North, and the O'Malley family in Killadeer in 1901.
1911 Irish Census. The National Archives of Ireland provides the 1911 Census online. It shows the Foy family in Derreennascooba, the Kerrigan family in Bohaun North, and the Malley family in Killadeer East in 1911.
Pat Tracey. In 2011, Pat Tracey wrote: Hi Peter hope you're well. My mother (Mary Kerrigan Tracey) showed me the information you have gathered on the Foy family - very interesting. I am/was the young boy in the photo with my Grandmother Maisie Foy Kerrigan in Killawalla. My mother is Mary Kerrigan and my father now gone was Paddy Joe Tracey. I'm an artist myself and was extremely interested in the Post Office Mural 'Advent of the Pioneers, 1851.' It was great to see all the conections."
John Kerrigan. John Kerrigan "Googled" this page from his home in Liverpool and wrote: "I am a decendant (grandson) of Charles Kerrigan, brother of Thomas Kerrigan Snr, who was my great uncle. I lived in the neighbouring village of Bohaun in the sixties and early seventies and knew the family quite well. My grandfather Charles Kerrigan and Thomas Kerrigan Snr had another brother Patrick and a sister Bridget. (I actually met them all when I lived in Bohaun). Charles inherited the small farm in Bohaun because he was the eldest son. Thomas Snr “married into” the Foy family. Patrick “married into” a family in Derassa, a nearby village to Derreennascooba. And Bridget married Martin Feerick in Ballinrobe. My father Patrick emigrated to England and that is how I ended up living in Liverpool, also known as Ireland's second capital city because of the number of Irish people that live here!"
Ann Feerick. In 2010, Ann Feerick commented on John Kerrigan's note above: "Bridget Kerrigan was my grandmother. She married my grandfather Thomas Feerick, and Martin was her father-in-law's name." Asked if her Feericks were from Knocknakillew, where there was a Martin Feerick married to Mary Concannon, and they had a son Thomas Feerick born about 1883, she responded "thats them! Bridget married Thomas, and Martin and Mary are Thomas' parents. They lived in Knocknakillew. I vaguely remember her brothers Charlie and Tom Kerrigan visiting in the 70s."
John and Bridget Gibbons Foy Family. The following chart for the John and Bridget Gibbons Foy family is based on the Ballintober Abbey records, the 1901 census, and conversations with Norah Kerrigan Brady, Margaret Kerrigan, and Charles Kerrigan.
Priest and Chaplain. I learned from Charles that Norah’s son, Thomas Brady, is a priest. Father Brady was ordained in the Archdiocese of Tuam in Killawalla in 1981. He has served in Shrule, Ros’A’ Mhil, Ennistymon, Salthill, Malawi, Ballybane, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, and the Defence Forces, Renmore. Since 2013, Fr. Brady has been pastor of the Parish of Renmore in Galway. See Father Brady's blog, God is at home.
Killawalla: The Road to Our Hearts. On my first trip to Ireland, Michael Walsh gave me a copy of Killawalla: The Road to Our Hearts, a 160-page soft-cover book published in November 1999 to celebrate the millennium and the history of the area around Killawalla. Below are some pictures of Foy descendants from that book.
Foys in Chicago
How I Got Started on Foy. It took me four years to find the Foy farm in Derreennascooba. It started when I retired in 2003 and thought one thing I might do is research my family’s history—something I had a minor interest in but had never taken the time to pursue. Early on I realized that genealogy meant time-consuming research with many dead ends and successes few and far between. Strangely, this was something I found appealing.
My uncle Bill Drueke had done a fairly extensive family tree on my mother’s side of the family (German Catholic) using a Commodore 128 computer he bought in 1985, and his children, my cousins, had done some research as well. But little had been done on my father’s side of the family (Irish Catholic), so I decided to start there.
Law Professor. My first cousin, John Foy Coverdale, is Professor of Law at Seton Hall University in Newark, New Jersey. He was law clerk for Antonin Scalia at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a year before Scalia became Supreme Court Justice. John has been a lay member of Opus Dei since 1957 and is author of a book about its founder, Saint Josemaria Escrivá, called Uncommon Faith and a book that explains why the founder of Opus Dei in the United States should become a saint, Putting Down Roots: Fr. Joseph Muzquiz and the Growth of Opus Dei.
John has a cousin in England, John Coverdale, who has researched his ancestors and found that they probably are related to Myles Coverdale (1488-1568) of Coverdale, England, publisher in 1535 of the first complete Bible written in English.
Mural in the Chicago Main Post Office. A noteworthy Foy relative was my grandmother's second cousin, Frances Foy (1890-1963), a descendant of Thomas Foy (1829-1903). Growing up we had in our house several paintings of flowers by Frances Foy. And I remember the attic full of paintings in her house in Chicago where we lived in the Summer of 1944. Today, if you go to the Main Post Office on Harrison Street in Chicago, you will see a 15-foot mural painted by Francis Foy in 1938 titled “Advent of the Pioneers, 1851.” My wife Marilyn discovered this mural while browsing at a gift shop in the Chicago Cultural Center in the old Chicago Public Library on Michigan Avenue in 2006. She picked up a book entitled A Guide to Chicago’s Murals by Mary Lackritz Gray published in 2001. There it was—a picture of the Frances Foy mural. See Mural in the the Chicago Main Post Office.
Family Bible. The only genealogical information I had about John Foy when I first started was a family tree in a 1950 Bible, written in my father's handwriting, included my grandmother Emily Foy Biggins, her brother William and sister Mary, and her father John and Mary Stanton Foy. There were no dates of birth, mariage, or death. And there were no siblings or parents for John Foy.
An oil painting of John Foy had hung above the fireplace in my grandparents’ apartment on Sheffield Avenue in St. Vincent’s parish in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago. He had white hair and beard and was sitting in a chair smoking a pipe.
John a Soldier in 1870? John Foy, age 22, may have been counted twice in the 1870 census.
Officer John Donahue. John Foy was a building contractor in Chicago after the Chicago Fire. In 1893, he built two two-family two-story apartment buildings on Altgeld Street that shared a common wall. My grandmother Emily Foy Biggins and her sister Molly Foy Donahue had apartments there after they married. One of the two buildings was still standing when my wife and I went snooping around in 2004. We saw the name Donahue and rang the bell but no one answered. When we got back home, I called and made contact with Patricia Donahue Schwake who still lived there. The following year I visited with her. Her grandfather George Donahue, her uncle John Donahue, and John junior were all Chicago policemen. It was then that I remembered being stopped by a policeman for speeding on Edens Expressway in Chicago in 1961. He saw my name on my driver’s license and asked if I was related to Emily Foy Biggins. He had fond memories of visiting her as a child. He gave me my license back without a ticket and told me to drive safely. He must have been Pat’s uncle John Donahue. I was too afraid to ask who he was. In 2007, the second building on Altgeld Street was torn down and replaced by a three-story condominium, and Pat and her family moved a couple miles away.
Professor of Psychology. I learned from Patricia Donahue Schwake that her brother Michael Donahue is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the Institute for Psychological Sciences, a Catholic graduate school of psychology in Arlington, Virgina. The Institute is affiliated with the Legionaries of Christ. Michael is Secretary of the American Psychological Association's Division 36: Psychology of Religion.
Foy's Black Salve. I established contact with the Kanes and Minogues by cold calling a Minogue mentioned in a Minogue obituary. My wife Marilyn and I attended Kane/Minogue family reunions in 2004 and 2006. One of the Kane descendants told me that John Foy sold a product called Foy’s Black Salve. I wish I could find some corroborating evidence.
Finding Dominick Foy. Being familiar with the Internet from my work prior to retirement, it did not take long to find a rich source of genealogical information there: the indexed decennial U.S. censuses through 1930, as well as indexed Illinois marriage and death records. Visits to public libraries in and around my current hometown of Darien, Connecticut, opened up further vistas.
My great grandparents John Foy and his wife Mary Stanton Foy were not hard to find in the United States censuses. I found John Foy and his family in the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses in Chicago. I found John Foy in the Chicago directories from 1872 to 1928—in Holy Name parish until 1883, then Old St. Mary’s parish in the Loop, then after 1893 in St. Vincent’s parish on Dunning Street (now Altgeld Street) by the “L” tracks in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago.Nunda, New York. I found what looked like John Foy in the 1850 census. He was age 2, living with his parents Dominick and Nancy Foy in Nunda, New York, where there were two construction projects intersecting: the 100-mile Genesee Valley Canal connecting the Erie Canal with the Allegheny River, and the Erie Railroad connecting New York City and Buffalo. This was the first inkling I had of who my great great grandparents were.
The 1850 census information was corroborated by his son John Foy's Death Certificate in 1936. With information provided by John Foy's daughter Emily Foy Biggins, the death certificate gave his father's name as Dominick and his mother's maiden name as Welsh.
McFay. Dominick Foy appears in five U.S. censuses. After I found Dominick Foy in the 1850 census with his wife Nancy and son John, I went on to find him in the 1900 census. But it took a while to find him in the other censuses. Eventually I found Dominick in the 1860 census under the name John McFay, in the 1870 census under the name Daniel Toy, and in the 1880 census under the name Dominick McFay.
Great Chicago Fire of 1871. At the New York Public Library, guarded aptly by lions named Patience and Fortitude, I found Dominick Foy in microfilmed Chicago city directories from 1866 to 1901. Finding where Dominick lived in the directories helped me find him in the censuses in spite of the indexing problems. He lived in Holy Name parish on the near north side until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, then in St. Bridget’s parish on Main Street (now Throop Street) in the Bridgeport section on the south side. The bungalow he lived in is still there, but St. Bridget’s Church is gone. Dominick lived in Bridgeport until his death in 1901. There is a wealth of information about Irish immigrants in Bridgeport in a weekly column written in the 1890s by Finley Peter Dunne based on a fictional character, Mr. Dooley, who had a bar there.
Friend of Mrs. O'Leary. A Foy plot card from Calvary Cemetery in Evanston just north of Chicago led to Dominick’s brother Thomas Foy (1829-1903), owner of the plot. As it turned out, Thomas was the grandfather of artist Frances Foy (1890-1963). Thomas Foy and his wife Mary Higgins Foy lived on O’Brien Street in Holy Family parish on the Near West Side of Chicago. Lars Dalstrom, son of Frances Foy and her artist husband Gus Dalstrom, told me that Thomas and Catherine were good friends of the O’Leary’s who lived two blocks away on DeKoven Street. Mrs. O’Leary sold milk from a cow she kept in a barn out back of their house. That cow allegedly started the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
With dates of death from the Thomas Foy cemetery plot, I was able to find obituaries for Dominick and Thomas in the Daily News at the Newberry Library in Chicago.
Four Foy Siblings. One of my first cousins, Kathy Biggins Brady, had a cemetery deed that eventually led me to the discovery of Bridget Foy O’Malley (1825-1902), sister of Dominick Foy.
Bridget’s obituary led me to a second sister of Dominick Foy, Margaret Foy Conway. Margaret Foy Conway (1842-1914) was married originally to Thomas Tracey. They had a child and her husband died shortly after that. The cemetery plot purchased by her brother Thomas Foy in 1867 was to bury Thomas Tracey.
I now had cemtery plots and obituaries for four Foy siblings. Bridget's obituary mentions her brothers Thomas and Dominick and her sister Margaret Foy Conway. Thus, all four Foy siblings are included in one item. Thomas Foy's obituary mentions that he is a native of Castlebar, which is the seat of County Mayo, 10 miles from Derreennascooba.
Deputy Fire Commissioner of Chicago. One of Margaret Foy Conway's descendants, Charles J. Pierce (1919-2000), became Deputy Fire Commissioner of the City of Chicago in 1978.
Editor of Commonweal. Another of Margaret Foy Conway's descendants, Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, was editor of Commonweal, a review of religion, politics, and culture, from 1988 to 2002, and is married to Peter Steinfels, religion columnist for The New York Times from 1990 to 2010. She and her husband are founding co-directors of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University in New York.
Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys. Are we related to Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys? Eddie Foy (1856-1928) was born Edward Fitzgerald in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1856. His parents Richard and Ellen Fitzgerald had emigrated from Ireland in 1855 with their daughter Catherine. Richard died in 1862 and Ellen moved the family to Chicago. Young Eddie eventually went into vaudeville and adopted Foy as a stage name.
On a trip to Chicago in 2008, the Visual and Performing Arts Department at the new Chicago Public Library found in their files an article from the Chicago Daily News of Saturday, August 24, 1935. The article was about Frances Foy (1890-1963), a well-known Chicago artist and descendant of Thomas Foy (1829-1903). It was part of a series on "Artists of Chicago" by C. J. Bulliett. This article mentions that the vaudevillian Edward Fitzgerald knew France Foy's father, James Foy (1861-1943), and adopted his surname because it was short. The 1877 Chicago city directory shows Edwin Foy boarding at the home of Thomas and Mary Higgins Foy at 17 O'Brien Street. See How Eddie Foy Got His Name.
Getting to Ireland
Everything I had done so far was based on information from U.S. sources. My gandmother had told me that my Irish ancestors came from counties Mayo and Cork, but nothing mor specific than that. I thought it unlikely that I would ever be able to trace my Irish ancestors back to Ireland. The censuses prior to 1901 had been destroyed in a fire in Dublin. Civil birth and marriage records were not collected for Catholics before 1864. Although there are Catholic Church records available back to the 1840s and 1850s, they are not much use unless you know what parish your ancestors are from.
Bridget Walsh from Gortbawn. But something occurred that gave a ray of hope. I had listed my ancestors on a Foy surname page on the Internet at a site called RootsWeb, and a kind person saw that and sent me an e-mail about a Ballintober Abbey marriage record for Dominick Foy and Anne Walsh from Kiltarseghaun, County Mayo. She had Foy ancestors unrelated to me, but passed on a record she found on a Web site run by Pat Deese of Buffalo, New York. Her mother Bridget Walsh was born in 1919 in the townland of Gortbawn in Ballintober parish. She has taken it upon herself to transcribe birth and marriage records from Ballintober and surrounding parishes and placing them on a Web site called Deese Genes. Her site contains thousands of names from many records that have no link to her family but hopefully will provide others like me with needed information. Included in the Ballintober Abbey records was the 1843 marriage of my great great grandparents, Dominick Foy and Anne Walsh. The marriage record said that Anne Walsh was from the townland of Kiltarseghaun, which is between Killavally and Derreennascooba.
My First Trip to Ireland. In April 2006, I took my first trip to Ireland. My wife had decided to go to Napa Valley in California with some girl friends for a week. Instead of moping at home I decided to go to Ireland. We had a friend in Darien, a writer by the name of Marie Whitla O’Reilly, who was born in Ireland. She encouraged me to plan in advance and not be afraid to knock on doors when I got there. And she arranged for me to meet her cousin Loretto O’Malley and husband Hugh in Westport. Another friend, Don Cavett, a genealogist, piper, and singer, invited me to monthly genealogy meetings at the Gaelic-American Club in Fairfield, Connecticut. There I met many people who encouraged me to go to Ireland. Bob Kelly, who had been to County Mayo many times, was particularly encouraging and lent me back issues of a magazine called "Ireland of the Welcomes".
Biggins Bar. I went to Ballinrobe in County Mayo because most of my ancestors seemed to come from County Mayo and I found on the Internet an eponymous establishment there named Biggins Bar. Full disclosure: my main objective was to learn about my surname Biggins, about which I knew nothing. I knocked on doors and met several Biggins families. It was a thrill just to meet others with the same name even though, as expected, no direct relationship was to be found.Father Frank Fahy. Near the end of my stay, I decided to pick some low-hanging fruit and went to Ballintober Abbey in search of Foys. I knew that the marriage of Dominick and Anne Walsh Foy was recorded there.
Mass has been said in Ballintober Abbey without a break since the year of its foundation in 1216. For 236 years, from 1653 to 1889, people attended Mass in an unroofed abbey, exposed to the cold and the wind and the rain. It was near the latter part of this period that my Foy ancestors and the Kerrigans’ Foy ancestors had marriages and births recorded at the abbey.
The Celtic Furrow. The curate, Father Frank Fahy, was at The Celtic Furrow, a museum near Ballintober Abbey. He was eating his lunch when I arrived, but insisted on taking time out to help. He had a typed index of Ballintober Abbey baptisms that included John Foy and a brother Patrick, listing their parents, Dominick Foy and Anne Walsh. This was new information, but the index did not give townland or sponsors. He drew me a map to Kiltarseghaun, where I already knew Anne Walsh was from. I was curious just to see what the area looked like. It was then that I met Michael Walsh in his store, mentioned my interest in Foys, and learned that there was a Norah Brady who was a Foy. With his directions, I went to her house, knocked on the door, and met someone who likely was related in some way.
A Rainbow. It had been raining earlier that day. But on the way home the sun was shining, and I saw a magnificent rainbow in the east. That night, I told two different people about the rainbow. Their responses were ho-hum: "We see those all the time."
Further Research Needed in Ireland. I know my great grandfather Foy was born on the same farm as their Foy ancestors. I have met distant Foy cousins in Ireland. And I have been to the farm and seen one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. That is a big accomplishment.
Nevertheless, further research is necesssary! It would appear that another trip to Ireland is in order.
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