Maurice James Wolfe, a Catholic farmer in County Limerick, is believed to have been born about 1630. He likely married before 1650 (his spouse is unknown) and had at least two children: Maurice and James (b. ca. 1651).
According to family oral history, Wolfe was plowing his fields when a rider whose horse had stumbled informed him that Limerick had fallen. As part of Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland, the city had been under siege from October 1650 until its surrender to Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton, in October 1651. (The town of Ireton in Sioux County, Iowa, is named for the English commander.)
The Wolfes were already an established family in Limerick City. Several Wolfes had served as mayors, bailiffs, or sheriffs. Two Wolfe brothers were reportedly hanged by the English in 1651: Captain George Wolfe and Father James Wolfe. Some accounts have the captain evading capture, moving to Kent, England, and becoming grandfather to General James Wolfe, the hero of Quebec. Father Wolfe, a Dominican, was presented for beatification as a martyr in 1915 but was not among the seventeen Irish martyrs so honored by Pope John Paul II on September 27, 1992.
In the century before Ireton, Wolfes were also living to the southwest of Limerick City. Gerot (Gerald) Baluff lived in Inis Cuais, near present-day Rathkeale, but lost his land during the Desmond Rebellion (1569–1573 and 1579–1583). Two of his sons may have fled to the hills in the western part of the county.
It is likely that Maurice Wolfe was related in some way to this rural branch of the Wolfe family. He lived in a place called Inchareagh near present-day Athea, on the River Galey, in western Limerick. Athea is about 27 kilometers west of Rathkeale and about 14 kilometers east of Listowel, County Kerry.
Wolfe is believed to have died in Inchareagh about 1700.
images: Henry Ireton, attributed to Robert Walker, ca. 1650 (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust); Galey River, Athea, County Limerick, from the John Paul II footbridge in the village centre by P. L. Chadwick (Creative Commons)