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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 John Gore, 1st Baron Annaly

John Gore, 1st Baron Annaly, Irish politician and peer, is born on March 2, 1718.

Gore is the second son of George Gore, judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland), who in turn is the son of Sir Arthur Gore, 1st Baronet. His mother is Bridget Sankey, younger daughter of John Sankey. His mother brings his father a fortune and the manor of Tenelick in County Longford, which comes to John on the death of his brother Arthur in 1758.

Gore is called to the Bar by King’s Inns and works as barrister-at-law. He is Counsel to the Commissioners of Revenue and also a King’s Counsel from 1749. From 1747 and 1760, he sits as Member of Parliament (MP) for Jamestown. Subsequently, he sits for Longford County in the Irish House of Commons until 1765.

In 1760 Gore is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, a post he holds until 1764, when he becomes Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench for Ireland. In the same year he is sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland. On January 17, 1766, he is elevated to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Annaly, of Tenelick in the County of Longford. In the following year he is elected Speaker of the Irish House of Lords.

Gore is a popular, witty and unassuming man, and a keen sportsman. In politics he is considered a strong reactionary, arguing that the Crown has the right to keep Parliament sitting indefinitely, and he is opposed to any extension of the powers of the Irish Parliament. In his later years he is inclined to denounce the Irish people as “idle and licentious.” Irish author and legal historian F. Elrington Ball notes however that Henry Grattan likes and admires Gore despite their strongly opposed political views. His judicial qualities are viciously attacked in an anonymous satire: “Without judgement, a judge makes justice unjust.” Ball on the other hand argues that his judgements and speeches in the House of Commons show that he does not lack ability.

In 1747, Gore marries Frances Wingfield, second daughter of Richard Wingfield, 1st Viscount Powerscourt of the third creation. Their marriage is childless. He dies on April 3, 1784 at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin and is buried in the family vault in the church of Taghshinny in County Longford. With his death the barony becomes extinct, but is revived for his brother Henry, first and last Baron Annaly of the second creation. Lady Annaly dies in 1794 and is buried at St. Marylebone Parish Church, London.