Dennis Wolfe Sheehan (sometimes spelled Denis) was born on June 15, 1852, in Robertstown Parish, County Limerick, Ireland. He was the son of Dennis Sheehan, a Catholic farmer, and Margaret Ellen Wolfe Sheehan. He was baptized on Foynes Island, on the River Shannon, near the village of Foynes. He had at least five siblings: Mary (b. 1841), Patrick W. (b. 1843), Margaret Ellen (b. 1847), Bridget Ellen (b. 1853), and Thomas (b. 1860).
Sheehan immigrated to the United States with his brother Patrick, arriving in New York City on May 22, 1872. They settled in Newport, Rhode Island, where their siblings Bridget and Thomas later joined them. According to an article written at the time of his death, Sheehan “went to work, soon after his arrival, for the late Thomas J. Lynch, by whom he was employed for a number of years. He was active and obliging, and made friends among all with whom he came in contact …”
Sometime around 1880 Sheehan went into business for himself on Kinsley’s Wharf in Newport, dealing in liquor, cigars, “choice family groceries, and table delicacies.” In 1894 he moved to what the Newport Mercury described as a multi-story “business block” on Thames Street. The building still stands.
On September 12, 1882, Sheehan married Julia Ann Halpin, of Newport, at Saint Mary’s Church in Newport. The couple had seven daughters: Pauline Ellen Genevieve (b. 1884), Theresa Clarissa (b. 1886), May A. (b. 1889), Dorothy E. (b. 1892), Natalie D. (b. 1892), an infant who was born in 1894 and who died two days later, and Marguerite M. (b. 1896).
Sheehan died probably of a stroke on August 25, 1907, while in the water at Easton’s Beach in Newport. The Newport News reported what happened:
Mr. Sheehan, together with his wife and some of the children, had taken a brief bath and Mrs. Sheehan had retired in her bath house. Little Margaret wanted to go in the water again, and her father took her in. They had just gone in at the west end of the beach, somewhat separated from the mass of bathers, when Mr. Sheehan, while in shallow water, settled down to his knees and the little girl ran to her mother’s house and told that her father had a cramp in his foot. Bathers went to his assistance as he fell face downward in the water, and brought him out on the sand, while the life savers who had been farther up the beach began their work of resuscitation, supposing that he had swallowed a quantity of water.
Sheehan was buried on August 28 at Saint Columba’s Cemetery in Newport. His wife, Julia, died in New York in 1946.
images: a Sheehan-Halpin family portrait, 1895; an undated photograph of Dennis Wolfe Sheehan; pre-1894 newspaper advertisement for Dennis W. Sheehan’s liquor dealership in Newport, Rhode Island; 250 Thames Street, Newport, Rhode Island, built in 1894