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Roots: The Extraordinary Crowleys

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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, Massachusetts 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.

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