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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden

Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden KC, Anglo-Irish peer, politician and judge, who held office as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, is born on January 19, 1739, at Forenaughts House, Naas, County Kildare.

Wolfe is the eighth of nine sons born to John Wolfe (1700–60) and his wife Mary (d. 1763), the only child and heiress of William Philpot, a successful merchant at Dublin. One of his brothers, Peter, is the High Sheriff of Kildare, and his first cousin Theobald is the father of the poet Charles Wolfe.

Wolfe is educated at Trinity College Dublin, where he is elected a Scholar, and at the Middle Temple in London. He is called to the Irish Bar in 1766. In 1769, he marries Anne Ruxton (1745–1804) and, after building up a successful practice, takes silk in 1778. He and Anne have four children, John, Arthur, Mariana and Elizabeth.

In 1783, Wolfe is returned as Member of Parliament for Coleraine, which he represents until 1790. In 1787, he is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, and is returned to Parliament for Jamestown in 1790.

Appointed Attorney-General for Ireland in 1789, Wolfe is known for his strict adherence to the forms of law, and his opposition to the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities, despite his own position in the Protestant Ascendancy. He unsuccessfully prosecutes William Drennan in 1792. In 1795, Lord Fitzwilliam, the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, intends to remove him from his place as Attorney-General to make way for George Ponsonby. In compensation, Wolfe’s wife is created Baroness Kilwarden on September 30, 1795. However, the recall of Fitzwilliam enables Wolfe to retain his office.

In January 1798, Wolfe is simultaneously returned to Parliament for Dublin City and Ardfert. However, he leaves the Irish House of Commons when he is appointed Chief Justice of the Kings Bench for Ireland and created Baron Kilwarden on July 3, 1798.

After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Wolfe becomes notable for twice issuing writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Wolfe Tone, then held in military custody, but these are ignored by the army and forestalled by Tone’s suicide in prison. In 1795 he had also warned Tone and some of his associates to leave Ireland to avoid prosecution. Tone’s godfather, Theobald Wolfe of Blackhall (the father of Charles Wolfe), is Wolfe’s first cousin, and Tone may have been Theobald’s natural son. These attempts to help a political opponent are unique at the time.

After the passage of the Acts of Union 1800, which he supports, Wolfe is created Viscount Kilwarden on December 29, 1800. In 1802, he is appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dublin.

In 1802 Wolfe presides over the case against Town Major Henry Charles Sirr in which the habitual abuses of power used to suppress rebellion are exposed in court.

In the same year Wolfe orders that the well-known Catholic priest Father William Gahan be imprisoned for contempt of court. In a case over the disputed will of Gahan’s friend John Butler, 12th Baron Dunboyne, the priest refuses to answer certain questions on the ground that to do so would violate the seal of the confessional, despite a ruling that the common law does not recognize the seal of the confessional as a ground for refusing to give evidence. The judge apparently feels some sympathy for Gahan’s predicament, as he is released from prison after only a few days.

During the Irish rebellion of 1803, Wolfe, who had never been forgiven by the United Irishmen for the execution of William Orr, is clearly in great danger. On the night of July 23, 1803, the approach of the Kildare rebels induces him to leave his residence, Newlands House, in the suburbs of Dublin, with his daughter Elizabeth and his nephew, Rev. Richard Wolfe. Believing that he will be safer among the crowd, he orders his driver to proceed by way of Thomas Street in the city centre. However, the street is occupied by Robert Emmet‘s rebels. Unwisely, when challenged, he gives his name and office, and he is rapidly dragged from his carriage and stabbed repeatedly with pikes. His nephew is murdered in a similar fashion, while Elizabeth is allowed to escape to Dublin Castle, where she raises the alarm. When the rebels are suppressed, Wolfe is found to be still alive and is carried to a watch-house, where he dies shortly thereafter. His last words, spoken in reply to a soldier who called for the death of his murderers, are “Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death, but on a fair trial, and by the laws of his country.”

Wolfe is succeeded by his eldest son John Wolfe, 2nd Viscount Kilwarden. Neither John nor his younger brother Arthur, who dies in 1805, have male issue, and on John’s death in 1830 the title becomes extinct.

(Pictured: Portrait of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Arthur Wolfe (later Viscount Kilwarden) by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, between 1797 and 1800, Gallery of the Masters)


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First Priests Ordained at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

The ordination of the first priests at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth takes place on June 6, 1800. The college is the “National Seminary for Ireland” and a Pontifical university located in the village of Maynooth, 15 miles from Dublin.

The college is established on June 5, 1795 as The Royal College of St. Patrick, by act of the Parliament of Ireland, to provide “for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion.” The College in Maynooth is originally established to provide a university education for Catholic lay and ecclesiastical students and is based in Riverstown House on the south campus from 1802. With the opening of Clongowes Wood College in 1814, the lay college is closed and the college functions solely as a Catholic seminary for almost 150 years.

The college is particularly intended to provide for the education of Catholic priests in Ireland, who until this Act have to go to the continent for training. The added value in this is the reduction of the number of priests returning from training in revolutionary France, with whom Great Britain is at war, thus hindering potential revolution. The value to the government is proved by the condemnation by the Catholic Church hierarchy of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and later support for the Act of Union.

In 1800, John Butler, 12th Baron Dunboyne, dies and leaves a substantial fortune to the College. Butler had been a Roman Catholic, and Bishop of Cork, who had embraced Protestantism in order to marry and guarantee the succession to his hereditary title. However, there are no children to his marriage and it is alleged that he had been reconciled to the Catholic Church at his death. Were this the case, a Penal law demands that the will is invalid and his wealth will pass to his family. Much litigation follows before a negotiated settlement in 1808 that leads to the establishment of a Dunboyne scholarship fund.

The land is donated by William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, who has argued in favour of Catholic emancipation in the Irish House of Lords. He lives nearby at Carton House and also at Leinster House. The building work is paid for by the British Government and parliament continues to give it an annual grant until the Irish Church Act 1869. When this law is passed the College receives a capital sum of £369,000. The trustees invest 75% of this in mortgages to Irish landowners at a yield of 4.25% or 4.75% per annum. This is considered a secure investment at the time but agitation for land reform and the depression of the 1870s erodes this security. The largest single mortgage is granted to the Earl of Granard. Accumulated losses on these transactions reached £35,000 by 1906.

The first building to go up on the site is designed by, and named after, John Stoyte. Stoyte House, which can still be seen from the entrance to the old campus, is a well-known building to Maynooth students and stands very close to the very historic Maynooth Castle. Over the next 15 years, the site at Maynooth undergoes rapid construction so as to cater to the influx of new students, and the buildings which now border St. Joseph’s Square are completed by 1824.

The Rev. Laurence F. Renehan (1797–1857), a noted antiquarian, church historian, and cleric, serves as president of St. Patrick’s from 1845 until 1857. Under Renehan, many of the college’s most important buildings are constructed by Augustus Pugin.

In 2015–16 there are approximately 80 men studying for the priesthood at Maynooth, 60 resident seminarians and approximately 20 non-residents.