The Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had strong links with County Waterford by virtue of the fact that his mother Mary Foley was from Lismore. He was a regular visitor to the area and wrote a travelogue about it in 1883, writes Cian Manning.


Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was a Hibernian Scot born in Edinburgh on the 22nd May 1859. In his 1924 memoir entitled Memories and Adventures, Conan Doyle wrote ‘I, an Irishman by extraction, was born in the Scottish capital after two separate lines of Irish wanderers came together under one roof.’

Doyle would go on to create the Sherlock Holmes character over the course of four novels and 56 short stories and is considered the pioneer of crime fiction as we know it today. But what do we know of this iconic writer’s Irish connections?

Arthur’s paternal grandfather was John Doyle, born in Dublin (c. 1797). He was a member of the Irish Catholic landed gentry but moved to England due to the Penal Laws. He was known by the pen name H.B. for his political cartoons and caricatures.

Creativity continued to run in the family with John’s son Charles Altamont Doyle, who was born in England, being an illustrator and watercolourist, while Charles’ brother Dicky designed the covers of Punch magazine.
Charles Altamont, the father of Arthur Conan Doyle, moved to Edinburgh in 1849 to take up a civil service position with the Scottish Office of Works.

Disillusioned by his work he would become an alcoholic which eventually led him to being institutionalised. Much more has been written and remarked on the paternal side of the Sherlock Holmes author’s family compared to his mother’s lineage.

However, in earlier and much happier times Charles was a lodger in the home of Kilkenny woman Mrs. Catherine Foley (nee Pack) a widow whose husband was William Foley a Medical Doctor from Lismore, Co. Waterford, who died in Clonmel 1841 around 37 years of age. Charles went on to marry her daughter Mary on the 31st July 1855.
Mary Foley was born on the 8th July 1837 and came from Glencarin, Lismore in County Waterford. The Foley family had a long association with Lismore, with Conan Doyle’s great-grandfather Thomas Foley appointed as an agent for the estate of the Duke of Devonshire by the river Blackwater in 1748.

They have been described by the author Andrew Lycett as ‘essentially upwardly mobile creatures of the Waterford soil’. The family’s wealth derived from having the rights to fish on eleven miles of the river which contained the best salmon in Ireland. Though ‘Black Tom’ Foley, as he was known, had a ruthless streak when maintaining order, and with his son Patrick killed a member of the agrarian agitator group the Whiteboys in the latter part of the century.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own