Patrick: I am Joseph Morley and live in the US. I spent 20 years living in Europe and made several trips to County Mayo to do some family tree research. Recently, I did a DNA test with familytree.com.
I have the birth certificate for my great grandfather Michael, born in Castlebar, Mayo in 1863, so there is no doubt about where my ancestors came from.
You are right about the surname Morley being derived from Murghaile, sea valor. However, there may be several origins of the Morley surname in Mayo. When I was a boy, my father told me that our surname was derived from MacMearlaoigh – he spelled it out exactly as I found it 50 years later in a book in the Castlebar library. He and his father were certainly no scholars and had never been in Ireland. His grandfather, Michael, had left Mayo at the age of 2, so this story about our surname origin had been passed down orally from father to son for generations.
My next point relates to the Diamond wars fought between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster in 1795, and has led to some educated speculation. Again, when I was a boy, I asked my father about Northern Ireland, having heard it mentioned in a history class. He became extremely agitated and spewed forth profanities, denouncing the land. He never ever did that when England was mentioned. This hatred could only have been passed on from father to son, and must have had a reason. Many decades later, I read about the Diamond wars fought between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster in 1795, and the subsequent expulsions of Catholics to Mayo and other counties. This led me to think that maybe one of those expelled was a Morley. On one list of expulsions that I found at the Castlebar library, was an Owen Murley. Murley is an accepted variant spelling of the Irish Morley surname. It could be that this Owen was the family member expelled. I have not been able to find anything, but not being an expert in history, I might be overlooking a good source. Taking this speculative venture a step further, my great-great grandfather was Owen Morley, born around 1838 in Mayo. Possibly, he was named after his grandfather as was common - the Owen Murley mentioned above.
Finally, oral tradition. There has been a rumor in our family here in the USA about a “black sheep” who was a thief and was sentenced to death by the English during the 1800s. I was able to discover that a Dominick Morley/Marley (Marley is also an accepted variant for the Irish surname Morley) from County Mayo, was convicted of burglary circa 1818 and was sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life in the then penal colony of New South Wales, Australia. I now have all of the information on Dominick, provided by English records and Australian records. The point here is that these oral events that have been passed down in my family seem to be based on truth, not wild exaggeration.
There is much, much more, but this is a good start. Any information you may have would be welcomed. We have started doing a huge jigsaw puzzle. I have assembled a lot of pieces, but a lot is still missing.
One of the history books at the Castlebar library showed that Morleys were descended from the O'Flaherty clan, a very powerful clan in Connaught. I have one O'Flaherty name that came up in my DNA test and will be contacting him soon. Our DNA shows that we had a common ancestor around 800 years ago. I believe that was about the time that surname usage became common in Ireland.
Granuaille, Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connaught, was married to Donal O'Flaherty and had a child with him. A local Mayo historian, Ernie Sweeney, told me that we had a family link to Granuaille.
By pure chance, I located another branch of Irish Morleys here in the USA who also came from Mayo. We think we are related, but only a DNA test will confirm it. They gave me some letters from their old relative in Mayo, Luke Morley, that he wrote to his sister who came to the USA in the early 1900s.
I hope to hear from you and would encourage you or another male Morley relative to do a DNA test. We have several branches of Morleys from Mayo and a DNA test will end all of the speculation. Please use my personal firstname.lastname@example.org