PATRICK WOLFE (1872–1933)
Patrick Wolfe, or Pádraig de Bhulbh, was born in Cratloe, Parish of Athea, County Limerick, on March 9, 1872, the son of James Patrick "Paddy" Wolfe and Honora Maher. He had at least seven siblings: Johanna (b. 1871), Richard (b. 1873), Ellen (b. 1876), Maurice James (b. 1877), John J. (b. 1880), James (b. 1882), and Timothy (b. 1885). His mother was herself a Wolfe, the daughter of Ellen Wolfe Maher, while his aunt, Ellen Maher Wolfe, married Richard J. "Brown Dick" Wolfe.
Wolfe was educated at the national school and Saint Ita's College in Newcastle West and Saint Munchin's College in Limerick City. He began his studies for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome and, after poor health forced a return to Ireland, completed them at Saint Patrick's College in Maynooth, County Kildare. He was ordained there on June 19, 1898.
From 1898 to 1902, Wolfe worked in the town of Wigan in Lancashire County (later Greater Manchester), England, and then, on October 6, 1902, became the curate at Saint Munchin's. He also served as chaplain to the Limerick Workhouse, on Shelbourne Road in the northwest of the city. Workhouses were first established during the Great Famine as "indoor relief," or where the poor could live and work for food. When entering the facility, family members were split up and life there could be harsh and cruel, particularly in the early years. According to the 1901 census, the Limerick Workhouse fed 1,140 inmates. (The workhouse buildings now house Saint Camillus's Hospital.)
Wolfe served as a curate in Kilmallock, County Limerick, from 1905 to 1925, and he became known there as a cultural nationalist. On June 28, 1914, he chaired a large feis, or festival, in Kilmallock attended by armed Irish Volunteers, and two years later gave a speech in which he extolled Irish patriotism. On May 28, 1920, during the Anglo-Irish War (1919–1922), forces of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked and burned the barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in Kilmallock, killing anywhere from one to eight policemen. (The barracks are now a bank.) The only IRA man killed was Liam Scully. After being shot, he was taken to a nearby house where, according to a witness, Wolfe administered the last rites. According to Wolfe's obituary in the Kerryman newspaper, he celebrated Mass later that day at the workhouse and was forced to pass the barracks in order to get there—"an ordeal few would care to undertake having regard to the temper of the police." The newspaper reports that "from then to the Truce was a very anxious time" for Wolfe, who was not well regarded by the RIC.
Evidence suggests that Wolfe was the subject of official scrutiny even before that. A report in the Cork Examiner, dated November 22, 1919, notes that while Wolfe was in London on church business, his residence was searched after Irish prisoners escaped from a Manchester jail. These were almost certainly the six IRA men who broke out of Strangeways on October 25, as reported in the Manchester Guardian. (The business that brought Wolfe to London involved the proposed beatification of the so-called Irish martyrs, who included James Wolfe, a Limerick priest hanged by Cromwell's army in 1651.) On September 25, 1920, the Cork Examiner again reported that Wolfe was subject to a search. This time, the presbytery at Kilmallock "was surrounded by military [...] and entered by the officers whose presence in the building was not known to the clergymen until their rooms were entered. So far as is known nothing incriminating was found."
On November 25, 1925, Wolfe was transferred to nearby Cappagh, County Limerick, where he served as the parish priest until his death.
While at the Limerick Workhouse, Wolfe began studying Irish names and surnames, a project that resulted in Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall. The book's first part was published in 1906 and then expanded and republished in 1922 and 1923. A seminal work that was widely used in Irish schools during the twentieth century, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall serves as a dictionary of common Irish names in both English and Irish.
The book arrived at a time when revival of the Irish language was closely aligned with the nationalist cause, a means of ridding, or at least reducing, English influence on the island's politics and culture. The Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) was founded in 1893 and Wolfe served as president of the Limerick branch. A 1910 obituary for one of Wolfe's relatives, Richard E. Wolfe, claims that Richard Wolfe "was well versed in folk lore and tradition, spoke Gaelic fluently, and it is to him […] that the Rev. P. Woulfe, O.C., Kilmallock, was indebted for much of the information on his 'Irish names.'"
In 1932, the Reverend P. J. Carroll, a Limerick priest then living in the United States, wrote in the Limerick Leader that Wolfe "believes in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church and the Irish language. He uses Irish for thinking, talking, praying, dreaming. He speaks English to you as a concession—because you are a foreigner; but if you can distinguish the difference between slain leat and taim go mait, he carries you along in Irish."
Wolfe died on May 3, 1933, with a large funeral mass conducted at Saint John's Cathedral in Limerick. "There were over 100 priests in the choir," one newspaper reported. He was buried in the yard of Saint James Church in Cappagh. His large library of books, containing volumes on Irish history, language, literature, and archaeology, was put up for auction.