RICHARD B. WOLFE (1884–1937)
Richard Barrett Wolfe was born on October 26, 1884, in Cratloe West, County Limerick, the son of Richard Maurice Wolfe and Johanna Barrett Wolfe. His siblings included Johanna (b. 1870), Mary (b. 1872), Maurice (b. 1874), Catherine (b. 1876), John R. M. (b. 1878), Ellen (b. 1880), and Bridget (b. 1882).
Little is known of Dick Wolfe's early life except that he became a pharmacist and, on April 16, 1913, married Catherine Elizabeth "Katty" Colbert. The couple had five children: Johanna (b. 1914), Cornelius "Con" (b. 1915), Hanora Josephine (b. 1915), Michael Joseph Colbert (b. 1922), and Richard. All of them became priests or nuns.
Wolfe ran a pharmacy on New Street in Abbeyfeale. According to the later testimony of James J. Collins, who apprenticed under Wolfe and later served in the Dáil Éireann (1948–1967), "The Woulfe's were great supporters of the Irish independence movement and their shop and house, from the earliest days of the movement, became a meeting place for men like Con Colbert, Captain Ned Daly and others who later figured prominently in the fight for freedom."
Cornelius Francis "Con" Colbert was Katty Colbert Wolfe's younger brother and one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, which began on April 25, 1916. He was executed at Kilmainham Jail, in Dublin, on May 8. According to Collins's testimony, given in 1955, Wolfe's pharmacy was a site of rebel activity during this time. In the weeks after the uprising, authorities frantically searched for Robert Monteith, an aide to Roger Casement, a British diplomat who had become an Irish nationalist. The two had landed via German submarine at nearby Banna Strand in County Kerry, but Casement had been captured. "Mr. Woulfe sent me to Fr. O'Flaherty of Brosna, Co. Kerry, to borrow his car for the purpose of bringing Monteith to Co. Limerick," Collins recalled. The mission was accomplished in a Model T Ford.
On June 24, 1916, the Liberator newspaper of Tralee, County Kerry, reported Wolfe having attended a meeting in Abbeyfeale of the Irish Aid Association, established to provide support for the families affected by the violence. He made a donation of £2 2s.
During the Anglo-Irish War (1919–1922), Wolfe's pharmacy again became a site of nationalist activity. According to Collins, a British spy calling himself Peadar Clancy and claiming to be from the Irish Republican Army's General Headquarters in Dublin attempted to infiltrate the West Limerick Brigade in 1919. He was brought to Wolfe's pharmacy in Abbeyfeale. "I was working in the shop at the time," Collins said. "Mrs. Woulfe called me and told me that she knew the Clancy family of Dublin and that this man was not one of them." Collins explained that "as a result of Mrs. Woulfe's suspicions," the man was arrested, tried, and executed as a spy.
In Victory and Woe, his memoir of the West Limerick Brigade, written in the 1940s and published posthumously in 2002, Mossie Harnett does not mention the Wolfes or their role in exposing Peadar Clancy. He notes only that "our intelligence received information that led" to his arrest. Harnett then relates how Clancy was found with hidden money and papers that, once decoded, exposed his guilt. His execution took place in the spring of 1920: "Fully realising now his terrible predicament, and visibly trembling, he clutched his Rosary beads in his hands. Near the place of execution, a priest heard his confession; then he shook hands with his executioners and admitted his crime." The man was eventually identified as Denis Crowley, a former soldier.
A later account by the IRA man Daniel Doody notes that in May 1920 Wolfe accompanied a local doctor on a motorbike with a sidecar to an IRA hideout to treat the wounded. At about 11 p.m. on September 18, 1920, according to a report in the Kerryman, an active service unit of the IRA that included Collins and Harnett ambushed a six-man patrol of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RIC) outside of Abbeyfeale. A constable, John Mahony, 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. "The Tans remained for a couple of hours while they fired some thousands of rounds of ammunition all round and bombed several houses," Collins recalled. According to the Kerryman, "The local Temperance Hall was subsequently burned, [and] Mr. Woulfe's pharmacy was considerably damaged."
On October 5, the Liberator reported that one of Wolfe's assistants, Tim Stack, along with Michael Wolfe, who worked at a hardware store in nearby Listowel, County Kerry, were both arrested by the police. Stack may have been connected to the family of Austin Stack, of Tralee, who went on hunger strike during the Civil War (1922–1923). Within a week, Stack had been released, but, as the Cork Examiner reported, "Mr. Woulfe, together with his wife and family, have abandoned his pharmacy since the place was raided and partially wrecked. A compensation claim has been lodged."
Wolfe appears to have fought with West Limerick Brigade of the IRA during the remainder of the war. Multiple testimonies suggest he served as quartermaster. Wolfe's actions during the subsequent civil war are not well documented. However, on April 18, 1923, the same day that the famous anti-Treaty fighter Dan Breen was reported captured, the Cork Examiner also noted that "Dick Woulfe, Listowel, a prominent irregular, surrendered to the troops last night with a rifle and ammunition." It's unclear whether this is the same Wolfe.
After the war, Wolfe continued to operate his pharmacy, for a time apprenticing Seán Ó Séadhacháin, who later became a noted folk artist. At some point he brought a younger cousin, David Wolfe, into his business in Abbeyfeale. David Wolfe's brother, Maurice Woulfe, later became pastor of the Infant of Prague Church, near Buffalo, New York.
Richard Wolfe died on April 19, 1937, in Abbeyfeale, after what one obituary described as "a tedious illness, borne with exemplary patience." The Irish Press wrote that "many people attributed his death indirectly to the heroic sacrifices which he made in the service of his country," noting that an honor guard from the West Limerick Brigade, which included James Collins, stood vigil over his coffin and that "the funeral procession was more than two miles long." He was buried at Templeathea. The pharmacy remained in the family until its sale in 1950.