Select Phelan Surname Genealogy

Here are some Phelan stories and accounts over the years:

O'Faolain Origins

Legend has it that the original FaolŠin from whom the Phelan surname is derived was nineteenth in descent from a younger brother of Conn of the Hundred Battles who reigned as the High King of Ireland for thirty five years until his death in 157 AD.  

Numerous members of the ” FaolŠin sept were rulers over the years of the Decies tribe which settled in what today is county Waterford.  They were in fact one of the original ancient septs of Ireland.

Phelans and Whelans

Both Phelan and Whelan emerged as anglicized surnames.  There are in fact more Whelans than Phelans today.

Numbers (000's)

Other surname variants have been Phalen and Whalen.

Some Phelan/Phalen Emigrants

These were some of the Phelans/Phalens who left Ireland in the 19th century for pastures new:  

  • John Phelan, born 1790 in Kilkenny, married Mary Phelan, and emigrated to Quebec (St. Scholastique), Canada  
  • James Phelan, born 1822 in Laois, married Mary Gaynor, and emigrated to New York City 
  • James Phelan, born 1828 in Kilkenny, married Bridget Mooney, and emigrated to Scott county (Cedar Lake), Minnesota 
  • Nicholas Phalen, born 1828 in Kilkenny, married Margaret Welsh, and emigrated to Mendota, Illinois
  • Laurence Phelan, born 1835 in Kilkenny, married Julia Meaney, and emigrated to Victoria (Ballarat), Australia 
  • William Phelan, born 1845 in Laois, married Sophia Soloman, emigrated to England and changed his name to Fielding  
  • and Edward Joseph Phalen, born 1848 in Waterford, married Mary Dunn, and emigrated to Kingston, New York

James Phelan and San Francisco

In the mid-1890s, San Francisco was said to be one of the most notoriously boss-ridden, corrupt cities in the country.  In 1896, the reform Democrats nominated Phelan for the office of mayor.  With virtually no previous political experience, campaigning for an end to corruption, home rule, and civil service reform, he was elected and twice re-elected. 

Despite the opposition of the party machines, he successfully led the campaign for the adoption of a new city charter in 1900.  During his mayoral terms, he also worked for municipal ownership of public utilities, public improvements, and beautification of the city. Phelan was also directly involved in a water dispute when in 1901 he proposed damming the Hetch-Hetchy valley to secure a source of fresh water for the city. 

The San Francisco fire of 1906 brought Phelan back into public service.  He was chosen to be President of the San Francisco Relief and Red Cross Funds and it was to him that President Theodore Roosevelt personally sent the $10 million collected for the relief of the fire victims.  He also took an active part in the graft prosecutions at that time.  And he was appointed President of the United Bank & Trust Company. 

Well known as a patron of the arts, he would later entertain guests at his spacious country estate near Saratoga, Villa Montalvo, that he had had built in 1912.

The Phelans of Toronto

Boats, booze and business have been a volatile and often poisonous mix for Toronto's wealthy Phelan family which controlled Cara for more than 120 years.  The Cara story was in fact documented in a film Proud Waves Break by Gail Regan, the daughter of the aging chairman of the company, P.J. Phelan.  

The film detailed her father's alcoholism, dementia and his chronic inability to grapple with succession which for years denied her the leadership role she felt she had earned.  She painted the image of Cara as a place of dark secrets and denial, and her father as a modern Job, imprisoned by the bottle and beset by a multitude of ills.  But others saw the aging P.J. Phelan as a corporate King Lear, surrounded by feuding children, and wandering about in mental disarray.  

The family squabbles continued.  Both sides have accused the other of stretching the truth, particularly regarding the care and treatment of their father during the period around 1995 when his health collapsed and the sibling feuding rose to fever pitch.

In 2003 Paul David Phelan, the great-great grandson of the companyís founder, rejected an offer of $7.50 a share for the 47 per cent of the company that he and supporting shareholders didnít own.  In the end his two sisters, Gail and Rosemary along with a niece, who had a controlling share of the stock, clinched the deal by raising their bid to $8 a share.

Father Joe Phelan

Joe came from a large and talented family in Waterford.  Born in 1919, he was the fourth of five boys and there were two sisters as well.  The eldest Theobald became an Olympic athlete and later a medical officer with the 8th army in the Western Desert in World War II.  The youngest, Billy, was part of a team of surgeons in a Dublin hospital; while Tim and Dominic both became successful businessmen.  

Those who saw Joe's rugby caps and athletic trophies knew that he was a considerable athlete himself.  But all that was given up when he offered himself to the Plymouth Diocese and set sail for the English College in Portugal, in 1937.  During the war he came home once to Waterford, the plane he should have been on was shot down by the Luftwaffe.  His first mass was at Ferrybank, Waterford, and he was appointed to the parish of St. Edward Peverell, in Plymouth.  

Joe was a much-loved priest in Cornwall and Dorset, as well as in Devon.  He lived onto 81, dying in 2000.

Many were the stories told about Joe.  One evening, getting dark, he was summoned to the front door of the presbytery to be confronted by two local villains, one with a knife.  Although well in his 70's, Joe moved fast, a right jab putting the knife-wielding villain down.  His accomplice fled.  Joe was summoned to meet the Chief Constable who presented him with a scroll of merit and also a small statue of a laughing policeman.  However, later when Joe was away, the villains returned, pinched his TV and video, and to Joe's annoyance knocked the block off the statue of the laughing policeman.

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