JANE C. WOLFE (1879–1964)

Jane Cooper Wolfe, better known as “Dollie,” was born on December 25, 1879, in Glasgow, Scotland, the daughter of Maurice R. Wolfe and Elizabeth Malcolm “Bessie” Cockburn. Her siblings were Richard Edmund Maurice (b. 1883) and Maurice James (b. 1884). Her nickname referenced her unusually slight stature.

Wolfe’s father had been born at the Glen, the large family farm in Cratloe, County Limerick, but his work with the Department of Inland Revenue took him to Scotland, where he met his wife and married. Little is known of Dollie Wolfe’s early years, although her later writing suggests a sharp intelligence and a fair amount of education. In 1905, Dollie Wolfe’s uncle Michael R. Wolfe, who ran the farm at the Glen, died at the age of thirty-two. At the time, Dollie and her family were living in Kilmainham, near Dublin, where her father continued to work for Inland Revenue, her brother Richard worked as a clerk, and her brother Maurice studied law. Management of the Glen fell to Dollie, and she soon moved to rural West Limerick, a circumstance that likely limited the possibilities of her life. She never married or had children, doting instead on her nieces and nephews.

The home at the Glen was built by Wolfe’s great grandfather, Edmond R. “Old Ned” Wolfe, in 1815. Her grandfather, Richard E. “Dicky Ned” Wolfe, was born there in 1825 and his children after him. Dicky Ned Wolfe was a legendary storyteller, Irish speaker, and collector of folklore who gave a portion of his land for the operation of a hedge school. His wife, Catherine White Wolfe, according to one source, loved to tell “stories about ghosts, devils, witches, banshees, fairy thorns, devil cats, elves, bewitched butter, horned women, blood-thirsty giants, and weird and startling enchantments.”

Dollie Wolfe inherited this tale-telling from her grandmother. In a letter to her uncle, Richard W. Wolfe, of Chicago, who himself was born at the Glen, she wrote of strange lights coming from the farm at night, and sightings of the ghost of Margaret O’Shanessy, hanged nearby in 1801 for the murder of her child. In a letter to another American relative, Sister Mary Caelan, dated August 1956 and later distributed widely throughout the family, she reveled in additional tales of ghosts and witches:

There was Joan Grogan of Athea who, one night at the Glen, called on the dead of previous generations naming each individually as they came in, one after another, out of the dark in response to her call until my grandfather, then a young man, was driven into a fire-place corner by the press of the weird, if friendly, visitors. There was Biddy Airly, the Limerick witch and Moll Anthony, the Clare witch. Biddy Airly was seen on both sides of a fence at the same moment which, you will admit, demands a considerable degree of technical skill in her trade even for a boss-witch.

An enthusiastic painter, Wolfe also had a passion for history. On December 17, 1932, the Irish Press newspaper reported that she had discovered, at a nearby archaeological site, “an oval tracked-stone of a type used in mediaeval times in conjunction with a steel for striking fire.” The site, Cnoc na bPoll, or hill of the bog-holes, was a largely uninhabited field located between Athea and Abbeyfeale in the townland of Cool West. Objects there, dating back to the Bronze Age, were first discovered while locals cut turf. Wolfe donated the tracked-stone to the National Museum. Two years later, on May 24, 1934, the Liberator newspaper reported that she had uncovered a coin dating to the Williamite War in Ireland (1688–1691) on the hill of Knocknaboul, not far from Cnoc na bPoll.

Wolfe also served as an authoritative and witty purveyor of family history. Her letter to Sister Mary Caelan traces the line from the Norman invasion of Ireland to the present day. About her great-great-great grandfather, Maurice J. “Old Maurice” Wolfe, she wrote that despite being only fourteen when his own father died, “he was strong and energetic, physically and mentally, and soon took charge of the family affairs. His younger brother, Richard, died a young man. The story is that he got chilled while on a visit eastward down the plain of Limerick and was buried in Monagay churchyard. It was winter and the snow lay so deep that the body could not be brought home.”

She wrote that her ancestor moved from a farm at Inchereagh, on the River Galey, just west of Athea, to better land at Beenmore, closer to the village. “After many years, (thirty apparently), his wife, Kathleen, died. The churchyard, Templeathea, where she was buried was in plain sight of his house. The tradition is that he could not bear to look at it. He left Beenmore and took the entire Townland of Cratloe, some 2,000 acres, in March 1760.” More than two centuries later the family continued to live in the same spot.

“He lived at the house … below ours, here are the Glen,” Wolfe wrote of Old Maurice, “and died there on Christmas night, 1792, being then, you will notice, 102 years of age. He had eaten his supper, possibly too good a one for his years, and was sitting on a corner of the kitchen beside the fire watching a dance of the young people that was in full swing, when he appeared to fall asleep. It was noticed that he had 31 of his own teeth in his mouth and the 32nd was in his waistcoat pocked we he died that night so that he was practically intact.”

Dollie Wolfe died at the Glen on August 8, 1964, and is buried at the Temple Athea graveyard.