Downey (surname)

Map of Gaelic Ireland showing its territory of the Ulaidh or Ulidia (kingdom) circa 900 A.D.

Downey is an Irish surname that means in English “belonging to a fort”. The name is found from ancient times in areas of Ireland’s modern County Galway, southwest Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Ulster and Leinster and is believed to be the surname of three distinct families.[1] In Ulster, Downey (var. there Devaney) is a surname of ancient Gael royals. The O’Downey or O’Devany (I. O’Duibheanaigh) chiefs ruled in Cinel Amhalgaidh in that portion of Gaelic Ireland's Ulidia (kingdom) that is, now, Clanawley in County Down.[2]

Notable people

Alan Downey Drummer

U.S. Navy and Army

The source for all material in this section is the Gannet Military Times Hall of Valor website.[3]

Medal of Honor

William Downey (U.S. Civil War hero), a Union Army cavalryman, was awarded the Medal of Honor for braving heavy fire from a Confederate States Army artillery battery as a volunteer member of a boat crew on the Ashepoo River, South Carolina to rescue crewmen on the stranded Union (American Civil War) steamer Boston.

Navy Cross recipients

Ernest Willard Downey for heroism in combat against the enemy in directing and operating anti-aircraft fire from his vessel while exposed to frequent horizontal Imperial Japanese aerial attacks and dive bombings, during the period of World War II from 7 December 1941 to 25 February 1942 and while on board the U.S.S. VAGA (YT-116)

Soldier's Medal recipients

Arlie L. Downey, on 10 July 1926 upon learning that an injured woman was lying exposed in the road near a point where the two heaviest explosions of the explosions at the Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Depot (aka Lake Denmark Powder Depot) near Dover, New Jersey had already occurred and accompanied by two other men, proceeded toward that point and rescued the woman through the continuous roar of exploding magazines and when the air was filled with flying shells, stones, and fragments of buildings, and shortly before a third heavy explosion of the facility's munitions occurred.

Distinguished Service Cross (United States) recipients

Ernest L. Downey, during World War I near the Bois-de-Montrebeau, France, 28 September 1918, while severely wounded refused to go to the rear, but continued in the advance until the final objective was reached and his company relieved

Distinguished Flying Cross (United States) recipients


  1. Rev. Patrick Woulfe, Priest of the Diocese of Limerick, Member of the Council, National Academy of Ireland, Irish Names and Surnames, © 1967 Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, in Irish and English, p 519, (The name was also found in Ulster …)
  2. John O'Hart, Irish Pedigrees; or, The Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, 5th edition, in two volumes, originally published in Dublin in 1892, reprinted, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1976, Vol. 1, p 819
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