Richard James Wolfe was born in 1763 in Cratloe, County Clare, Ireland. He was the son of James Maurice “The Barrister” Wolfe and Johanna McCoy Wolfe. He had two and possibly three siblings: James, Maurice James, and Edmund, the latter’s relationship remaining unconfirmed.
Wolfe married Johanna Relihan in Cratloe sometime before 1800, and the couple had at least ten children: James Richard (b. 1800), Maurice Richard (b. 1802), John Richard (b. 1809), Ellen (b. ca. 1810), Thomas Richard (b. 1811), Johanna (b. 1812), Richard (b. 1815), Margaret Ellen (b. 1818), Edward (b. 1821), and Patrick.
Little is known about Wolfe’s life, but evidence suggests that his family was relatively wealthy. His father’s nickname, passed down through family oral history, suggests a career in the law; however, that cannot be confirmed. Wolfe’s grandfather was wealthy enough, in March 1760, to purchase 2,000 acres of land, which constituted the entire townland of Cratloe. Wolfe’s uncle, Richard Maurice “Short Dick” Wolfe, inherited that land. At some point, Wolfe’s father moved the family to the area surrounding Athea, County Limerick, which had been the family seat prior to the Cratloe purchase.
In Wolfe’s History of Clinton County (1911), Wolfe’s grandson Judge Patrick B. Wolfe describes Richard J. Wolfe as “the agent having charge of the property of the Knight of Kerry.” The eighteenth knight of Kerry was Maurice FitzGerald; his title was hereditary, perhaps dating back as far as the thirteenth century, but not formally recognized by the Crown. He represented Kerry in Parliament from 1801 to 1831, vigorously supporting Catholic emancipation.
From 1812 until 1821, FitzGerald’s primary residence was at Ballinruddery, near Listowel, County Kerry, which a visitor in 1823 described as “a mere cottage, but gentlemanlike and comfortable, and … worthy of its excellent and high spirited owner.” The house is believed to date from the sixteenth century and was described, in 1837, as “beautifully situated in a wooded demesne.” Although FitzGerald moved his main residence to Glanleam, Valentia Island, it is likely, based on its location, that Richard Wolfe’s association was with Ballinruddery. In 1831, FitzGerald informed a government official of his intention to provide employment for local people at Ballinruddery.
The Wolfe family’s relative wealth suggests that Patrick Wolfe’s claim that Richard Wolfe was the agent in charge of FitzGerald’s property may not have been an exaggeration. (Another of Patrick Wolfe’s claims, about his father John R. Wolfe’s involvement with the Young Ireland movement, does appear to have been, at best, an exaggeration.) Whatever the case, FitzGerald’s estates were heavily mortgaged at the time of his death in 1849, and it may have been for this reason that the Wolfe family’s association with the knight of Kerry likely began and ended with Richard Wolfe.
He died on June 6, 1842, and is buried at Templeathea, County Limerick.
image: detail from a tax assessment, 1825, Garryantanvally (Townland), Finuge (Parish), County Kerry, showing the names Richard (James?) Wolfe and John Wolfe