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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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Birth of Margaret Aylward, Founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith

Margaret Louisa Aylward, Roman Catholic nun, philanthropist, and founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, is born to a wealthy merchant family on November 23, 1810 in Thomas Street in Waterford, County Waterford.

Aylward is educated by the Ursuline nuns in Thurles, County Tipperary. After doing some charitable work in Waterford in her early years, she joins her sister in the Sisters of Charity in 1834 as a novice. She leaves the novitiate in 1836 and returns to Waterford to continue her charity work in a secular role. She again attempts to join a religious order in 1846 when she enters the Ursuline novitiate in Waterford, however she leaves after two months.

By 1851, Aylward has moved to Dublin where she is active in re-energising the Ladies’ Association of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Great Famine leads to a large-scale movement of people from rural areas into cities, including Dublin, which leads to increased pressure on the charitable institutions of these areas. Her efforts are part of this wider charitable effort to help the poor, particularly Catholics who are seen to be at risk of coercive religious conversion (known as Souperism). This association is concerned with the “temporal as well as the spiritual relief of the sick poor in Dublin.”

The Ladies’ Association of St. Vincent de Paul opens St. Brigid’s in 1856, an orphanage which has an anti-proselytising mission and claims to rescue Catholic children from Protestant agencies. The Ladies’ Association often comes into dispute with those involved in the Irish Church Missions (ICM) and the ragged schools in Dublin, with members of the Ladies’ Association distributing crucifixes to children attending the Protestant-run ragged schools and visiting the homes of parents who send their children to them. The women involved in St. Brigid’s Orphanage organise themselves into a society called the Daughters of St. Brigid. However, while the establishment of St. Brigid’s brings Aylward closer to religious orders, historian Maria Luddy notes that in the 1850s, she is not concerned with the establishment of a religious community, rather she wants to “live in a community of women who were united by their religious convictions but did not necessarily desire to take formal religious vows.”

There is a growth in religious orders for women in Ireland from the early nineteenth century due to a relaxing of anti-Catholic Penal Laws. These include the Irish Sisters of Charity who are established in 1815 under Mary Aikenhead, the Sisters of Loreto order (1822) under Frances Ball, and Catherine McAuley‘s Sisters of Mercy (1831). Archbishop Paul Cullen of Dublin is an important figure in persuading leaders of religious communities of women, like Catherine McAuley, to formally organise as religious congregations in order to continue their charitable work and be respectable. While Aylward is resistant to this idea for a while, she eventually agrees. In 1857 the Sisters of the Holy Faith are established, and in 1869 the order are approved by Pope Pius IX.

Aylward is arrested in 1860 for “failing to produce a child named Mary Matthews, who had been taken away and concealed from her parents for the purpose of being brought up in the Roman Catholic faith.” Matthews had been placed with a nurse in Saggart, County Dublin, when her father had died and her mother had emigrated to The Bahamas. When her mother returns, Aylward is notified by Matthews’ foster mother that she is missing. Aylward is acquitted of the charge of kidnapping but is found to be in contempt of court and serves six months in jail. She continues her work after her release.

Aylward (now Sister Mary Agatha) dies on October 11, 1889. She had continued wearing her own clothes and travelling after taking her religious vows.

Historian Margaret Helen Preston argues that Aylward is unusual for the time that she lives in because she does not believe that poverty results from sin. Aylward refers to the poor as the “Elect of God” and argues that God sees the poor as special because of their difficult circumstances.

The Sisters of the Holy Faith still work around the world.