Maurice James Wolfe, also known as Old Maurice, was born in 1690, probably at Inchareagh, near present-day Athea, on the River Galey, in western County Limerick, Ireland. His father, a Catholic farmer, was James Wolfe, also known as James of Inchareagh. The identity of his mother is unknown. Wolfe had at least seven siblings: six sisters who are said to have immigrated to the United States, and a brother, Richard (b. ca. 1690).
Family oral history—contained in a letter between Wolfe relatives dated August 1956 from Cratloe, County Clare, also known as the “Aunt Dollie” letter—suggests that Maurice Wolfe “was strong and energetic, physically and mentally.” When his father died in 1704, Maurice took charge of the family. According to the letter, he provided dowries for his six sisters, postponing his own marriage.
In 1730, he married Kathleen Rearden (also Riordan). The couple had five children: Richard Maurice “Short Dick” (b. ca. 1730), James Maurice “The Barrister” (b. 1732), Edmond, Patrick “Wiggie,” and Maurice James “Young Maurice.” He bought land at Templeathea, about 2.8 kilometers northeast of Athea. (The letter suggests that Inchareagh was farther than that from Athea.) Sometime around 1760, his wife Kathleen died. “The churchyard, Templeathea, where she was buried was in plain sight of his house,” according to the letter. The tradition is that he could not bear to look at it.”
As a result, in March 1760 Wolfe bought 2,000 acres of land, which constituted the entire townland of Cratloe, in County Clare, about 65 kilometers from Templeathea, to the northwest of Limerick City.
Wolfe died in 1792. According to the Aunt Dollie letter, he died at home on December 24 or 25, at night: “He had eaten his supper, possibly too good a one for his years, and was sitting in 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 pocket when he died that night as he was practically intact.”
image: Cratloe Woods, County Clare, June 2009 (Google Maps Street View); detail from the gravestone of Anne Marie Woulfe at Temple Athea graveyard in western Limerick