MAURICE J. WOLFE (1884–1973)

Maurice James Wolfe was born on July 21, 1884, in Tickhill Parish, Yorkshire, England. He was the son of Maurice Richard Wolfe, an officer of the Department of Inland Revenue, and Elizabeth Malcolm “Bessie” Cockburn, of Scotland. His siblings included Jane Cooper “Dollie” (b. 1879) and Richard Edmond Maurice (b. 1883).

Before joining Inland Revenue, the elder Maurice Wolfe was raised at the Glen, the family farm in the townland of Cratloe, County Limerick. He was the son of Richard Edmond “Dicky Ned” Wolfe, a celebrated seanchaí, or Irish-speaking storyteller and oral historian.

Maurice J. Wolfe attended Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen, Scotland, and then worked in the London Stock Exchange for several years before deciding to read the law. He apprenticed with the Dublin solicitor Arthur E. Bradley and passed his final examinations in May 1915, after which he opened a practice in Abbeyfeale, County Limerick. In April 1916, during World War I and just weeks prior to the Easter Rising, Wolfe volunteered for the 10th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, an infantry regiment in the British army. By January 1917, he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 5th (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He was gassed while fighting at the Battle of the Somme (1916) and was awarded a Silver War Badge in 1918. He was honorably discharged.

Wolfe’s cousin, Richard B. Wolfe, ran a pharmacy in Abbeyfeale that became a center of nationalist activity before and during the War of Independence (1919–1921). Dick Wolfe’s brother-in-law Con Colbert was one of sixteen men executed by the British after the Easter Rising and Wolfe himself joined the West Limerick Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The veteran Maurice Wolfe, however, did not appear to share his cousin’s sympathies. In Victory and Woe, his memoir of the West Limerick Brigade, written in the 1940s and published posthumously in 2002, Mossie Harnett recalls a weapons raid he and his comrades undertook early in the war. After taking a Colt revolver and shotgun from the home of a British officer and meeting no resistance, the party arrived at Wolfe’s house.

There we got some shotguns and cartridges after being strongly obstructed in our search. Ned Ryan took strong objection to this behavior, and pointing his gun around, threatened to blow the brains out of anyone not staying quiet. In the confusion created we missed a fine revolver owned by Maurice, later confiscated by the Black and Tans.

Late in the evening of September 18, 1920, an active service unit of the IRA ambushed a six-man patrol of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) outside of Abbeyfeale. A constable was killed and two others wounded. The next day a large number of policemen and soldiers arrived, members of both the RIC and the RIC Special Reserve, or so-called Black and Tans—temporary constables recruited from England and notoriously violent. They fired thousands of rounds of ammunition, bombed several houses, and damaged Dick Wolfe’s pharmacy.

The police eventually retreated to their barracks in town, but the violence did not end. On the evening of September 20, a policeman allegedly shot dead two young local men outside town. The victims were Patrick Harnett, a postman, and Jeremiah Healy, a blacksmith’s apprentice. According to witnesses, a Black and Tan named Thomas D. Huckerby followed them down a walking path, shots rang out, and then Huckerby returned to the barracks alone. A short time later, Harnett and Healy were found dead in a field, both shot through the head.

On September 22, the British army convened an inquiry, with Maurice Wolfe representing the Harnett and Healy families. On the stand, a policeman testified that Huckerby had confessed to killing the boys, claiming that he had followed them and, when they ran, shot them.

“Further witnesses were then examined and the proceedings adjourned,” wrote J. D. H., a pseudonym for the Abbeyfeale journalist J. D. Harnett, who composed an account of the incident that was published in 1948 by the Kerryman newspaper and then again in the book Limerick’s Fighting Story, 1916–21 (2009). “That was the last heard of the inquiry. It had been going against the British and almost immediately Mr Woulfe, the solicitor who defended the interests of the next-of-kin, was arrested on a trumped-up charge of possessing firearms without a current permit.”

The Cork Examiner reported the arrest on October 8, 1920, suggesting that it had “created a sensation in the town.” Wolfe was detained upon arriving at his office and relocated to the William Street barracks, in Limerick city. “And amongst his escort,” Harnett noted, “was the Black and Tan [Huckerby].” The Liberator newspaper, of Tralee, County Kerry, reported Wolfe’s release on October 19, and that he had been fined 10s “for having without permit a service revolver and ammunition”—the same weapon he had kept from the IRA in 1919.

On September 14, 1921, Wolfe married Sarah McCarthy, and the couple had three children: John Maurice (b. 1922), Maurice Richard (b. 1925), and Richard (b. 1929). Richard Wolfe eventually joined his father’s law practice, which became Maurice J. Wolfe and Son, Solicitors.

In the postwar years, Wolfe joined Fine Gael, the political party that originated with those men and women whose sympathies had been pro-Treaty during the Civil War (1922–1923). (His cousin Dick Wolfe had been anti-Treaty.) On July 18, 1934, the Irish Independent reported that Wolfe’s Abbeyfeale home “was attacked at night. Mr. Woulfe’s bedroom was fired into and the window shattered by gunshot pellets. Several rifle bullets were also fired through the roof of the house.” Subsequent police investigations linked the incident to a lawsuit in which Wolfe represented several parties. No charges were ever brought, however.

Wolfe died on May 7, 1973. He is buried with his brother Richard and sister Jane “Dollie” Wolfe in the family mausoleum at the Temple Athea graveyard. His wife is buried in Abbeyfeale.