Roots: The Extraordinary Crowleys

Crowley coat of arms

By Tara Dougherty, Contributor
February / March 2010

Derived from the Gaelic O’Cruadhlaoich, Crowley has been a common surname in Ireland since the 11th century. Formed from the words cruadh meaning hardy and loach meaning hero, Crowley exists in many variations of the original Gaelic spelling, among them Crowley, Crowly, O’Crowley, Croaley and Croawley. The first to bear this name was Diarmuid an Cruadhlaoch, a MacDermot of Moylurg in Connacht in the mid-1000s. Some two hundred years later, descendants of Cruadhlaoch migrated from Connacht to Munster, in the barony of Easy Carbery, north of the Bandon river. Local Cork folklore tells of a marriage between a Cruadhlaoch and the reigning Coughlans in that region. The marriage would lead to an eventual ousting. Today, the name maintains its stronghold in County Cork, which is home to many a Crowley.

The Crowley clan has left their mark on a number of cultural foundations. Nicholas Joseph Crowley (1819-1857) was an Irish painter. His early career was in portrait painting, his portraits often shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Later in life he exhibited a unique talent for stained-glass window design before moving to London where he painted scenes from popular literature of the day.

Crowley brothers from Cork have taken on the world of drama in the last twenty years, leaving their mark on theater and film.  The elder of the two, Bob Crowley (1955-) has been recognized by the international theater world as one of the most prominent set and costume designers and directors. He has been the recipient of five Tony Awards for his design work on Aida, Carousel, The History Boys, Mary Poppins and The Coast of Utopia, not to mention five other nominations for his work. Bob is also a recipient of the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best Set Design. His costume and set design can still be seen on Broadway and in the West End in Mary Poppins. Not to be eclipsed by his older brother, John Crowley (1969-) is an award-winning film and theatre director. He was nominated for a Tony for directing Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman but is perhaps better known for his film directorial debut Intermission starring the Irish heavyweights Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Kelly MacDonald. In 2007, John directed the BAFTA-winning Boy A.
Making strides in broadcast journalism, Candy Alt Crowley (1948-) is a CNN political correspondent. She specializes in U.S. presidential, Senate and gubernatorial elections and has been covering elections for over 20 years.

Congressman Joe Crowley (1962-) is a Democratic politician from New York, currently representing New York’s 7th Congressional District. He was first elected to Congress in 1998 and is the highest-ranking New York member in the leadership of the House Democratic Caucus.
The longest-serving Member of the European Parliament in Europe and wheelchair-bound since age sixteen, Fianna Fail’s Brian Crowley (1964-) from Cork is interested in tackling the presidential position if McAleese decides against a second term.

The world of sport is no stranger to Crowleys. The name appears on the back of countless Gaelic football, soccer and hurling jerseys. Among the athletically gifted of the clan is Ted Crowley (1970-), a native of Concord, Mass-achusetts who played professional hockey for the Hartford Whalers, the Colorado Avalanche and the New York Islanders. Another was William Michael “Bill” Crowley (1857-1891) who was an MLB outfielder for the Philadelphia White Stockings.

Among the more amusing stories that follow the Crowley clan is that of Irene Craigmile Bolam, born Irene Madalaine O’Crowley (1904-1982). In 1970, author Joe Klaas published a since widely discredited book which argued that Irene was in fact Amelia Earhart living in secret. Though a pilot herself, Irene’s primary career was in banking. After a fair share of controversy, Irene was proven not to be the famous pilot and the book was pulled from shelves.
This issue of Irish America features a member of the Crowley clan whose devotion to his family is truly inspiring. When two of John F. Crowley’s young children, Megan and Patrick, were diagnosed with Pompe Disease in 1998, John and his wife Aileen focused their efforts on finding a cure. He became the CEO of a  start-up company, Novazyme, that merged into Genzyme, which developed a treatment for the disease. The Crowley family story inspired the film Extraordinary Measures, starring Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford and Keri Russell.

23 Responses to “Roots: The Extraordinary Crowleys”

  1. I’m Robert John Crowley – i am named after my Grandfather john and his brother Robert. Are we all related?

    • Robert Michael Crowley says:

      Not sure, Robert.

      • Vanessa Green says:

        My name is Vanessa, my Great-Grandparents were Jerry and Nora Crowley, I believe their parents came to America from Ireland but I don’t know what their names were. This Coat of Arms is the same symbol we have on our family reunion shirts.

  2. Lashonna carrollbey says:

    My grandfather’s name is Ransom Crowley Jr. (Of course named after his father) is it possible that we are related

  3. Tracy Crowley says:

    I am Tracy Crowley. My grandparents were Robert Daniel Crowley and Naomi Finley. Is there anyone out there who knows either. We are from Texas and Michigan

  4. Leslie Crowley Coffee says:

    My grandparents were Robert Milton Crowley, Sr. and Mollie Geneva Price. Is any one familiar with those names in your family history?
    We are all from Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas.

  5. Samantha Centers says:

    I’m a decendant of Littleberry Croley, son of Samuel Crowley (Croley) I would love to get to know you all. Feel free to email me anytime!

  6. Michael Crowley says:

    Hi my name is Michael Crowley and I am a direct descendant of alistaiir Crowley.
    I would like to find out who I am related too fully

  7. John Crowley says:

    I’m black.

    • Candis Crowley says:

      Hi there I have a the Crowley last name and I am black too. I have not found many people of the same decent with this surname. Maybe we can collaborate some info when u have time…thanx for ur time.

  8. Dave Crowley says:

    Im thinking of treating my wife to a trip to Ireland to see some family roots
    My. dad was Don Crowley and grandfather was David Crowley

  9. Harry Robert Crowley says:

    My father was George Eugene Crowley I was named after my grand father Harry knight and my uncle Robert knight, both on my mothers side. From Terre Haute Indiana.

  10. My grandfather was Daniel Crowley and his wife was Rose Ford both from cork. Are we related to anyone there now and does anyone have any information on them they can share. I visited southern Ireland in 2012 spend two days in cork beautiful country

    • Also trying to trace family links back to Ireland from Australia. Visited Cork some years ago but told I need more information than great grandfather’s name was James Crowley…

  11. Margaret L. Leonhard says:

    Is anyone familiar with Crowleys in the Cincinnati area? They were from Cork. My great-great grandparents were John Crowley and Margaret Sullivan.

  12. Peter Crowley Rhoads says:

    My grandfather was Patrick Edward Crowley from Wyoming County, NY. His parents came from County Cork and he became President of the NY Central Rairoad in the 1930’s. Am I directly related to anyone out there?
    If so, would love to hear from you.

  13. David Crowley says:

    Hi Crowleys,
    I’m a Massachusetts David Crowley and it doesn’t look like I’m directly connected to any of you previous posters out there. My email is and I would be willing to negotiate for if you’re reading this. Let’s work something out.
    If any of you other Crowleys want to hit me up just go ahead.

  14. Stephanie R Pearson says:

    I am looking for my grandfather, Oland Lee Crowley, his parents were from Ireland. I believe he may have had twins before my mother from his previous marriage. Sonny and maybe Margaret. I think he had a brother named Charles. That’s about all I know He was a rancher in Arkansas and born in the year 1907. My mother was born in Bakersfield, CA or at least that’s what the birth certificate said.

  15. Stephanie Pearson says:

    This is my email. If you have any information about my grandfather, please let me know. I think he might have been a cotton picker in Arkansas at one time and their was mention that he was a very good boxer.

  16. john crowley says:

    great-grandfather was Bartholomew Crowley, Dunmanway, County Cork- married Mary Cameron, Scot, from Canada. had dairy farm in Bombay, NY. Grandfather Andrew James Crowley, born in Rouses Point, NY married Bertha Fietinger (Austrian)- lived in White Plains, NY. Son, Hubert Gentry Crowley, was my father….all best, Jack, Bellevue, WA 425-746-1824

  17. Ed crowley says:

    My name is Edward Crowley. My family came from county cork in the late 1600’s early 1700’s through Georgia into Kentucky (early 1800’s) then into the Irish wilderness in Missouri in the mid 1800’s. I’m happy to share family tree info with anyone doing research. Trying to determine exactly when we left Ireland and arrived in the USA. Email me at ecrowleyky at gmail dot com.

  18. Deborah Crowley says:

    I live in Tramore, Co. Waterford, Ireland. We have traced my Dad’s side back to the 1850’s. 6 generations. is a great resource. Irish Government inititiave so it’s free to access. It’s a good idea to read up on what records are available to you online. It makes searching easier. A huge amount of records were lost when the Public Records Office was bombed during the Irish Civil War in 1922. Hope that’s some help.

  19. Mary says:

    Related to James (Jimmie) Crowley and Millicent (Millie) Colfer from Fethard-on-Sea, Co. Wexford. Emigrated to Brooklyn, New York. Had a son Michael Crowley, USN. May have been killed in WWII. Please write to :

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