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.