Charles Wolfe, Irish poet, is born at Blackhall, County Kildare, on December 14, 1791. He is chiefly remembered for “The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna” which achieves popularity in 19th century poetry anthologies.
Wolfe is the youngest son of Theobald Wolfe of Blackhall and his wife Frances, who is also his cousin and daughter of the Rev. Peter Lombard of Clooncorrick Castle, Carrigallen, County Leitrim. He is a brother of Peter Wolfe, High Sheriff of Kildare. His father is the godfather, but widely believed to be the natural father, of Theobald Wolfe Tone and the first cousin of Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden.
Not long after he is born, his father dies and the family moves to England. In 1801, Wolfe is sent to a school in Bath but is sent home a few months later due to ill health. From 1802 to 1805, he is tutored by a Dr. Evans in Salisbury before being sent to Hyde Abbey School, Winchester. In 1808, his family returns to Ireland, and the following year he enters Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1814.
Wolfe is ordained as a Church of Ireland priest in 1817, first taking the Curacy of Ballyclog in County Tyrone before transferring almost immediately to Donaghmore, County Tyrone. There he develops a close friendship and deep respect for the Rev. Thomas Meredith, Rector of nearby Ardtrea, and a former Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. Wolfe writes two epitaphs for Meredith, one on his memorial in the parish church of Ardtrea, and another intended for his tomb.
Wolfe is best remembered for his poem “The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna”, written in 1816 and much collected in 19th and 20th century anthologies. The poem first appears anonymously in the Newry Telegraph of April 19, 1817, and is reprinted in many other periodicals. But it is forgotten until after his death when Lord Byron draws the attention of the public to it. Wolfe’s only volume of verse, Poetical Remains, appears in 1825 with “The Burial of Sir John Moore” and fourteen other verses of an equally high standard.
Wolfe remains at Donaghmore until 1820 but, rejected by the woman for whom he gave up his academic career, and with Meredith, his only real friend in County Tyrone, now dead, he moves to Southern France. Shortly before his death he returns to Ireland and lives at Cobh, County Cork, where he dies at the age of 31 of consumption, which he catches from a cow. He is buried in Cobh at Old Church Cemetery. There is also a plaque to his memory in the church at Castlecaulfield, the village where he lives whilst Curate at Donaghmore, as well as a marble monument to him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
(Pictured: Bas-relief of Charles Wolfe in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin)