Where did the Foy's come from?  
Where did the Foy name come from?

The first document I can find which lists the name Foy is Arthur Griffith's Valuation of Tenements for the Parish of Kilcolman, in 1856.   Here John and Michael Foy are listed as tenants in Garryedmond, as are several Berrys (spelled Bury).   Given their tenant status in 1856, it is unlikely that they would have been landholders before that time, so their names would not appear on any earlier deeds.

The records patched together with information from Mary Foy, John Foy, and our Kansas relatives seem to put the relationships between and among Patrick Foy (who married Bridget Morley)  , William Foye (who married Anne Halligan) and Michael Foy (who married Winnie Cox) as follows.

 Relationships, with other Foys omitted.

Michael Foy
Abt 1804 - 3 Feb 1873
father of

Michael Foy
m Peggy Moran
parents of

John Foy m Mary Egan
circa 1826 - 24 Feb 1890
parents of

William Foy(e)
8 June 1843 -
8 Dec 1922
m Anne Halligan
Patrick Foy
m Margaret Conway
parents of
Patrick Foy
circa 1848 -
19 Dec 1904
m Bridget Morley

Michael Foy
Abt 1860 -
3 Apr 1925
m Winnie Cox


From this table, it appears that Patrick Foy and William Foy(e) were cousins, Michael and William Foy were nephew and uncle, and Michael and Patrick were first cousins once removed. 

Willie Costello, a family friend and author, wrote that the Foys came to the Claremorris/Garryedmond area from Westport, on the coast.  He indicates that the Costellos came to Mayo around the time of the Norman Conquest of England.  While not directly related to the Foy lineage, this shows there was movement between France and Ireland for centuries.

John Foy recently expressed the opinion that the Foys came from Donegal.  See this suggestion in the section on early foys

When I was a little boy, my Aunt Mary Foy Mullin often claimed that the Foy name was French.  She told a story that when the French soldiers marched through Mayo in 1798, one of the soldiers asked an Irish lass for a drink of water or milk.  He was struck with her beauty and graciousness, and returned to marry her.  

In January 2003, I spoke with Robert Long, son of Mary Foy Long and grandson of Michael Foy.  Without prompting, Robert indicated that it was a tradition in his family to believe that the Foys originally came from France.

The reader who wishes to pursue the Irish history around 1800 might well turn to Thomas Flanagan, the author of several excellent historical novels.  His The Year of the French contains many excellent details of the Mayo Rebellion of 1978, and The Tenants of Time describes Ireland of the last quarter of the 19th century, including the Rent Strikes and the Parnell Movement.

My Aunt Mary was "professional Irish" who prided herself on all things true Irish.  In the early fifties, her daughters thought she would like to see The Quiet Man, since that was filmed close to Claremorris.  She enjoyed the movie until the section where Barry Fitzgerald is assigned to chaperone the couple (John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara).  The couple start to race away with their sidecar, and Barry gives chase.  As they move through town, Barry's horse comes to an automatic halt outside the pub.  Barry shrugs, and walks into the pub.  At this point, my aunt stormed out of the theater, considering this item not really Irish!

Perhaps Aunt Mary's story is more legend than truth; but often legends contain grains of truth.  There is a Foy name in French history.  One of Napoleon's generals was General Maximilian-Sébastien Foy (1775 - 1825) ,   who rose through the ranks of the artillery until he reached the position of Brigadier General.  When Napoleon went into exile, Foy resigned from the army and became a leading spokesman of the liberal opposition during the early years of the Bourbon restoration.   His popularity was such that his funeral in Paris was attended by over 100,000 mourners, attracted to him by his liberalism, his flair for oratory and his military reputation;  the funeral turned into an ani-Bourbon protest.

.  And there is a Saint Foy!

Sainte Foy

Fides, to give her her Latin name, was born around A.D. 290 in Agen,  the daughter of a local patrician who paid homage to the city's Roman gods  -- Jupiter and Diana.  She and her sister were brought up in the Christian faith by their governess.  At a very tender age she began to display an admirable solicitude for the wants of the needy, even going so far as to steal bread from the family kitchen, which she distributed to the poor.  Fides was just 12 years old when the emperor Diocletian, in the year 303, ordered a ruthless purge of all Christians in the empire.  The man sent to Acquitaine to take care of the job was Dacian, the governor of northern Spain, a man for whom orders were orders.  So Sainte Foy wound up a young martyr.

Devotion to Sainte Foy spread over southern France, from Bordeaux to Lyon, and several churches were dedicated to her, including one in Paris and six in Spain.    In those days, popular piety dictated that each town have a protecting saint.   The town of Conques lacked such a saint.

Conques lies on a river named Le Lot.  More importantly, it  lies along one of the pilgrimage routes from France to Santiago de Compostella, reputed to contain the relics of St. James the Apostle.  Conques itself lies on a mountainside, as it was founded by monks who fled from the incursions of the Moors near the Pyrenees, and they chose a desolate spot.  For several centuries, they lacked the cachet of their own saint.  They solved this by sending several of their monks to visit another monastery in Agen, bringing along a plentiful supply of liqueurs.  While the monks were celebrating, a few of the Conques crowd crept into the church, raised the stone covering the remains of Sainte Foy, and carried them back to Conques.  The topography of this town made it virtually impregnable to attack, so Saint Foy became the patroness of Conques. 

Many miracles were attributed to her, mostly in the nature of regaining sight.  Soon Conques became an important stopping point on the pilgrimage route.

It was common to house the relics in special containers called reliquaries, normally richly ornate.  The reliquary for Sainte Foy is covered with gold and precious stones.  The town of Conques also contains a reliquary of Pepin and a reliquary of the True Cross, called L'A de Charlemagne.,

Conques today is a little out-of-the-way place with less than two hundred inhabitants.  But its isolation had certain advantages.  The magnificent church  -- reputed to be the finest example of Romanesque architecture in France -- and the treasures were spared spoliation during many wars and natural catastrophes.  "Then came the disaffections, the disasters which the treasures of Conques managed happily to avoid.  In fact, Conques is the only treasure which in France can rival those of certain sections of Europe: Germany, the alpine region, Lombardy, the North of Spain benefited like Conques  almost miraculously by the geographic location and historical circumstances and always by the devotion of men.  The Hundred Years War, the wars of Religion, the iconoclasm of the Reformation, the Revolution of 1789 and the revolutions of the nineteenth century, the two world wars  have allowed the living testaments of medieval civilization to remain untouched." (Translation by R. Foy of pp 132 of Rouergue Roman).

Devotion to Sainte-Foy was strong in he south of France during the the late middle ages, but waned thereafter. The Spanish conquistadors who invaded America regarded Saint Foy  (Santa Fe in Spanish) as one of their chief patronesses.

The name Saint Foy appears in a few towns in France.  Sainte-Foy-la-grande ("Saint Foy the great") lies on the Bourgogne river, a few miles outside of Bordeaux.  To get an idea of what the town of Sainte-Foy-la-grande looks like, look at the views of the town depicted in the 2002 movie "Chocolat".      A second town near Lyon is called Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, but on most maps is listed as St. Genis-Laval. (The French expression lès means near to.)  The former name is being revived because it seems more conducive to tourism. Coincidentally, I visited this town in 1964 when I toured that part of France to visit the birthplace of St. Marcellin Champagnat, the founder of the Marist Brothers, but was unaware of its former name.  For several decades, St. Genis-Laval was the central headquarters of the Marist Brothers, until it was moved to Rome in 1963.

The towns of Conques, Sainte-Foy-la-grande, and Sainte-Foy-lés-Lyon are so small that they do not appear on most maps of France.  To locate them on your map, look for the nearby larger cities:

Conques along the river Le Lot, just east of Figeac, in the center of France, due east of Bordeaux.  Figeac is the birthplace of Charles Boyer (1897 - 1978) the famous actor, and of Jean-François Champollion (1790 - 1832) the Egyptologist who deciphered the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone.
Sainte-Foy-la-Grande due east of Bordeaux, along the river Dordogne, near Bergerac  Birthplace of Paul Broca (1824 - 1880) who was closely associated with the development of physical anthropology and whose study of brain lesions contributed significantly to the understanding of asphasia, the loss or impairment of the ability to form or articulate words.
Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon also called St. Genis-Laval, along the Rhône river, just south of Lyon.  Birthplace of Alexis Carrel, a French surgeon who received the 1912 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for developing a method of suturing blood vessels.

There is a suburb of Quebec named Sainte-Foy, but I have no idea why or when it was named Sainte-Foy.  It was originally called Notre-Dame-de-Foy.


The village of Conques, far less populous now than it was in the twelfth century, sits on a remote mountainside in the southwestern part of France.

"A gurgle of angry cliff faces, a murmur of mountain waters, a shiver of naked poplars by the arched Roman bridge, and there suddenly it was, half-hidden by the rocky edge guarding the entrance to the secluded valley; the little town of Conques, a cluster of gabled roofs and timbered walls watched over on the left by a tiny helmeted castle and in the center by the rain washed bulk of its basilica, as squat and stoop shouldered as a medieval man-at-arms... it was up this steep and slippery slope that for centuries the pilgrims struggled with their mules..."  Curtis Cate The Tale of the Purloined Saint.


Pepin's reliquary, so called for reasons now forgotten, is adorned with precious stones and filigree work surrounding a figure of the crucified Christ between John and the Virgin Mary.  The chest was made circa 1000, presumably to contain the foreskin of Christ.


  Buried in village yards and fields during the time of the French Revolution, they have gradually been brought back and are housed in a treasury near the church.  The items depicted here constitute the finest collection of Carolingian art in France.

The Conques tympanum is world renowned.  A tympanum is the decoration in the recess under a circular but more common triangular arch




The Conques tympanum is world renowned.  A tympanum is the decoration in the recess under a circular but more common triangular arch

There are a great many saints and sinners depicted here, including  Sainte Foy praying. (She lies at the left just over the wording  ADCELI )  True to biblical writings, the saints are placed on the left side of the tympanum to the right of Jesus in the center, and the damned at His left



  Most people in medieval times could neither read nor write, so pictures and statues told the important stories.  And these pictures were visible every time you entered the monastery church at Conques.


Enlarge the left photo to find Sainte Foy.  Do you see yourself on  this side?  Are any of your friends visible?  Perhaps you see yourself suffering with those on the right side of the tympanum ….?   then repent!


"Conques is definitely worth a visit.  In fact, once when there I ran into a group of students from Florida International U. with their professor.  The Romanesque church is world-famous, the treasury with its relics and objets-d'art, and the valley and stream which the monastery span, all are breath-taking.

"When four of us from Poitiers went there in 1971, we vowed to return there to die...  "

===== Quote from Brother Joseph J. R. Belanger, professor emeritus of French at Marist College.

Several books on Irish names indicate that Foy is a variant of Fay, or Fahey, or Faye, or Foye.  This isn't a very romantic derivation.

The most famous non-Foy:   Eddie Foy

Eddie Foy  (b. March 9, 1856, New York City  d. Feb. 16, 1928, Kansas City, Mo., U.S.) was EDWIN FITZGERALD, although some books describe him as Edwin Fitzgerald Foy.  He was a U.S. comedian famous on the vaudeville circuit in the late 19th and early 20th century.

As a child he sang and danced in the streets of New York and Chicago to help support his family. He gained his first professional recognition in the mining camps and cow towns of the West, beginning around 1878. He returned to Chicago in 1888 as the star comedian in variety shows and revues. Between 1904 and 1913 he played the leading comic roles in a series of musical comedies in New York City, among them Piff! Paff! Pouf! and The Earl and the Girl. He entered vaudeville in 1913 with a highly successful act that included his seven children and appeared with them in one motion picture. Foy retired in 1923 but returned to the stage in 1927 and died while on a farewell tour.  In the 1955 movie starring Bob Hope, the children are listed as: Brynie, Charley, Richard, Mary, Madeline, Eddy Foy Jr and Irving. 

The definitive biography of Eddie Foy is by Armand Fields.  To quote one reviewer, Frank Cullen, American Vaudeville Museum from Boston, MA USA:

Congratulations to author Armond Fields and publisher McFarland & Company for this absorbing, well-written and meticulously researched biography of comedian & eccentric dancer, Eddie Foy. The story, as Fields tells it, leaves nothing to be desired, yet it isn't cluttered with footnotes. It reads easily because it is as deftly organized and told as a good stage production. The scene is laid out before us, time and place, before Mr. Foy enters the scene: the Nineteenth Century, the newly arrived Irish immigrants and New York City's Bowery. When Foy's adventures take up the tale, the scene segues to the Civil War, Chicago, Dodge City, Leadville, Denver and San Francisco, and the great and glorious characters who inhabit these places and befriended Foy: Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Gentlemen Jim Corbett and dozens of theatrical managers and performers. Foy's life and career spanned the Civil War, the Westward migrations, the reach of the railways, the lawlessness of cattle-towns, the small towns and big cities of a growing America. Show Business grew too, from saloons to variety and Opera Houses, to Broadway musical comedies and vaudeville, and Eddie Foy lived and worked until the dawn of the sound films. Mr. Fields traces Foy's influences and growth as a performer and clarifies the record about Foy's personal life with no intent except telling a good story well and true

 His son Eddie Foy, Jr. (1905-83) was active in vaudeville, films, the musical and legitimate stage, and television. 

Two other sons were active in the movie industry.  Bryan Foy became the head of "B" file production in a major movie studio, and Charles Foy was a script writer.  Brian is credited with producing Crime School(1938), Guadalcanal Diary(1943), Doll Face(1946),  Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima(1952),  The Winning Team (1953),  House of Wax (1953), The Mad Magician (1958), Crime Wave (1959) and Pt 109(1963).

Eddie Foy's grandson, Eddie Foy III, has been a  casting director for over 30 years, Eddie III  has worked with Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and The Disney Channel. He was Director of Network Casting for ABC and V.P. of Casting and New Talent for NBC. His credits include The Donna Reed Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Days of Our Lives, The Emmy Awards, and The Academy Awards. Eddie works nonstop as the National Talent Executive for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Eddie laughingly admits to being the boxing consultant for Celebrity Boxing. Other recent projects include Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and the pilot of On the Brink. Eddie is also Executive in Charge of casting for Dick Clark Productions and Jerry Lewis Films.  He produced Women's Prison; Where Hell Broke Loose; Run Silent, Run Deep; and Shaky the Tree(1992).

So which is the correct origin?   I don't know.  But I like to follow the example of the authors of Genesis.  When presented with several different accounts of creation, they solved the problem by weaving each version into the book.   Feel free to use any derivation.  You can't be contradicted!
References:    Curtis Cate, "The Tale of the Purloined Saint", Horizon, Winter 1969.  (in English)

Rouerge Roman,  Zodiaque, la nuit des temps, 1963, 291 pp.  See especially pp. 98 to 184 for description of the treasures contained in the parish church.  Photo of the reliquary of Sainte Foy on page 184.

Henry and Margaret  Reuss,  The Unknown South of France, a History Buff's Guide, Harvard Common Press, Boston MA, 1991.  This paperback presents a clear, simple history of the southwest France, often overlooked in the usual French histories.  Chapter Five, The Midi: Age of Faith (1000-1300) is a clear description of the pilgrimages to St James of Compostella in Spain.  Conques is mentioned   pp 61 through 86.

Thomas Flanagan, The Year of the French, out of print but available in used paperback from Amazon.com and perhaps in your local library.  An interesting historical novel about the Mayo Rebellion of 1798....

Thomas Flanagan, The Tenants of Time,  out of print  but available in used paperback from Amazon.com and perhaps in your local library.  A historical novel tracing the history of four men who originally were Fenians but whose paths diverged thereafter.  Gives a good flavor to the events and normal lives of the Irish in the period  1875 to 1910.

Cecil Woodham-Smith The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-49, published 1963 is considered the authoritative work on the Irish Famine, but some historians consider it too harsh on the British government.

James S. Donnelly, Jr  The Great Irish Potato Famine is a more recent work by a Professor of Irish Literature at University of Wisconsin, and is thought to be more balanced.

Several articles on Eddie Foy in Encyclopedia Brittanica and on the Internet.

most recent revision:   3 February 2003
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