Whilst carrying out family history research, we all encounter brick walls. One particularly stubborn one that I revisit every few years is the question of who the parents of my Great Grandfather Michael Foley were.
As I am a professional genealogist, you would think I would have my own family tree done. But take it from me, you are never finished. That is why I always keep an eye on new records becoming available. I got a flutter when I heard new records of the parish where my great grandparents hailed form had become available. I couldn’t resist and immediately looked… but first, let me give you the background story.
When I started working on my family tree, I quickly found the marriage certificate of my Grandfather, Michael Foley to Julia Cronin on 23 April 1898. The certificate informed me that Michael Foley was a teacher living in Cromane, Killorglin, County Kerry, and that his late father, John Foley, was a farmer. As a child, I spent many a happy summer holiday in Cromane in the former home of my Grandmother and my Great Grandparents.
To put a face to the name in this story, Michael Foley is on the left in the photograph, he is the man with the fantastic moustache. I can only imagine the scene, my Grandfather John Francis Hassett took a photo of his wife, his then five children, and her parents. My father, Michael Hassett, is the child sitting in the centre on his Grandmother’s lap. It took me some time to realise it was my Dad as I saw a ‘child in a dress’. I soon learned it was not unusual for young boys at the time, around 1940, to be dressed in this way.
This photo is very special to me as by 1945, both of my Great Grandparents Michael Foley and Julia Cronin, and my Grandparents John Francis Hassett and Mary Foley had all died. And this is one of the few pictures I have of them.
Since my childhood, I have always known my Great Grandfather was a school teacher and was the first ‘Master’ in Cromane near Killorglin. Through family history research, I established that Master Foley was the first headmaster of the newly built school in Cromane in 1886. I have visited the site of the old school and, with sincerest thanks to the current headmaster, I have been able to view and take photographs of the old school registers.
I discovered that his grandchildren, including my father, regularly came from their then home in Cork for a long summer to Cromane. They would arrive around March and leave around October – thus enrolling in school for a few months and then returning to school in Cork. On occasion, they would even spend a full year in Cromane living with their grandparents.
I visited the Killorglin library and read an article from the 1980s published in a local history publication entitled “COIS LEAMNTHA”. A local oral historian had interviewed William Griffin, who was born in Cromane Upper in about 1894 and attended the school in the late 1890s / early 1900s.
From other information available to me, I know Michael Foley taught at Cromane National Boys School from 1886 to 1918, when Stephen Coffey succeeded him as Head.
Michael Foley had four children: Helen Maria Foley (1900 to 1980), John Laurence Foley (1904 to 1933), Mary Catherine Foley (1904 to 1944), and Catherine Mary Foley (1907 to 1909).
Helen Maria Foley was my Godmother and I was very lucky to have her in my early life. She encouraged me to explore the world. I didn’t realise until I started working on my family history that she had been a customs officer and that that was the reason why she was so informed about countries around the globe, bringing to life in her bedtime stories their sights and smells.
Mary Catherine Foley was my Grandmother. She sadly died when my father was only eight.
John Laurence Foley was also a customs officer and died at the young age of 29 of TB, still very common in those days. The write-ups in the newspaper articles I found were very moving.
It was only when I visited the cemetery where my family was buried, in Killorglin, I found evidence of a fourth child, Catherine Mary Foley, who died at age two.
However, despite finding all of this information, I could never find out more about my Great Grandfather John Foley. From the wedding certificate of his son Michael Foley in 1898 I could see he had been a farmer and had died before his son married. I searched all deaths of all John Foleys before 1898 in the area (and wider area) in the records available but without success. My search was made more complicated, because, at that stage, I didn’t even know if my Grandfather Master Michael Foley was born in the area. I only knew that in 1886 he was the first schoolmaster. Also, Foley is not an uncommon name in the area.
Through a newspaper article on the death Michael Foley’s son, John Laurence, in 1933, I was able to confirm that Michael Foley had a sister: the newspaper article listed the mourners and this list included an Aunt Joanna Conway. She married a Francis Conway. Joanna Foley was also a school teacher. This information would prove to be important, as you will see later.
Then, a few years ago, the National Archives shared a gem of record set: the ‘List of Teachers Employed by the Commissioners of National Education on 31 March 1905’ went online. With this list, I was able to establish the month and year my Grandfather was born and where he went to primary and secondary school. I now knew he did grow up in the area. I doubled down and tried DNA, but it didn’t open any obvious doors. The wall seemed to be getting higher.
Every year, I would dip in again and see if any new information would become available. And it finally paid off when I looked at the new parish records mentioned at the start of this article. The 1898 Marriage register of my Grandparents Michael Foley and Julia Cronin had the names of the father and the mother of each of my Grandparents. The parents of Michael Foley are John Foley and Ellen Murphy. My great-grandmother’s name was there right in front of me. It almost seemed too easy. I admit to doing a little dance.
And if any more proof was needed, I also found the baptism record of Joanna Foley with her parents John Foley and Ellen Murphy, and the dates matched.
Next, I looked for the marriage of John Foley and Ellen Murphy and found a transcription on RootsIreland of the marriage of John Foley and Ellen Murphy on 2 March 1840 in Killarney, County Kerry. The transcription stated John Foley lived at Coolcorcoran, near Killarney. The witnesses were Timothy Murphy and David Foley.
So, I then searched land records available for Coolcorcoran and could find that a Timothy Murphy was a tenant and could find baptism records for an Ellen Murphy and her siblings and a marriage record in 1803 for Timothy Murphy and Hannah Sullivan.
However, there was no sign of any Foley’s living at Coolcorcoran. As a genealogist, I was of course now itching to see the original marriage register. On Ancestry.com, I found the original page on the register from Killarney Parish Register. And as you can see, it was Ellen Murphy who was from Coolcorcoran.
In a short few hours, I was now back two further generations. And have many new doors open to examine and explore. I wish you equal success with your brick walls.