The Fay Family: the Fay Name and Crest

Contributed by Steven Fay
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Motto: Toujours Fidele
Translation: "Faithful forever"
[Compare Orlin's version, James M. C. Fay's version (passim), and James Fahy's version]
The surname FAY is common to many families in modern Ireland and is found in every county of the land. All of them can be traced, however, to two main family stems, one of ancient Celtic stock and the other of Anglo-Norman origin.

The Celtic families belong to the O'Feich clan, an ancient sept of Brefney, the territory comprising modern Counties Leitrim and Cavan, and in olden times possessed by the race of Brian, King of Connacht, the brother of Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland 357-365 A.D. The Gaelic name is O'Feich or O'Fiaich, from the word "Fiach" which means a "raven". The commonest English renderings are FAY and FOY.

The FAYS get prominent mention in early Irish annals as administrators of the ecclesiastical properties connected with the monastery of Derrybrusk near Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. In later times their family fortunes and history were associated with the prominent Breffney families of O'Rourke and O'Reilly and their story tends to be overshadowed in the records by the accounts of these dominant clans.

Migrations, brought about by wars and military movements down through the centuries, caused widespread dispersal of the descendants of this ancient family throughout Connacht and even into Munster. Dialect pronunciations of the Gaelic surname led to its being variously rendered into English records as Foy, Fee, Fey and Fye; sometimes Fahy and even, by mistranslation, into the English name Hunt.

The Anglo-Norman FAYS were called De Fae in Gaelic. They came to Ireland in the 12th century and settled in County Westmeath. Their modern descendants are the FAYS of Ballymoon, County Kildare. But like the Celtic FAYS, their descendants in modern times are found in many parts of Ireland, notably in Dublin and the midlands.

Probably the best known representatives of the name in modern times are the brothers Frank and Willie Fay, pioneers of the Irish dramatic movement which gained world-wide fame through the Abbey Theatre.